The Sourdough Whisperer

My wonderful wife has become an expert with sourdough. She keeps sourdough starter sitting on our kitchen cabinets, “feeding” it every day. Sometimes she gets overzealous and the quart jar of starter slowly bursts out the top. Most of the time, though, she just makes sourdough bread and sourdough biscuits and sourdough waffles and, once, sourdough bagels.

Yes, I’m a very lucky man.

If you’ve been following along with me in trying to discover what this “kingdom of God” is that Matthew 6:33 tells us that we’re supposed to seek first, you might know that we’ve come to the third of seven kingdom parables in Matthew 13. Today, we’re onto the shortest of the bunch:

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and mixed into fifty pounds of flour until all of it was leavened.”–Matthew 13:33

I have to admit that I get distracted with that one. What is that woman going to make with that flour now that it has yeast in it? And will she share?

So far, the parables have compared the kingdom of God to plants in a field and to a tiny little seed. What sort of choppy focus must Jesus have had to now compare the kingdom to yeast?

I think there’s a good reason why Jesus compares the kingdom to seven exceptionally different things in this chapter and to several others elsewhere in Matthew. You see, the kingdom of God is not really like anything else. It is unique. All similes or other metaphors are imperfect. Despite my mother saying it, most little kids do not literally “grow like a weed.” But the comparisons of earthly and well-known things to the other-worldly and unknown kingdom of God are, by necessity, even more of a stretch. One comparison just won’t get the job done.

What do we learn from this yeasty parable?

  • First, I’d say that the kingdom of God is something where a little goes a long way. In that sense, this parable parallels the mustard seed.
  • Second, the kingdom of God, like the leaven, does its work from within. It is essentially invisible but its outcome is visible to everyone. And once it starts, it is difficult to stop.
  • Finally, somebody has to work the kingdom into the flour. A little bit of yeast will do an amazing job on a pile of dough, but it won’t do it if it remains in the packet.

That leaves me with an unanswered question. In this parable, a woman works the yeast into the flour. Who is the woman? Is the woman God? Is the woman a follower of God? Honestly, I’m not sure that question is even relevant. The important “actor” here is the yeast.

Sourdough starter is amazing stuff. So long as you keep it supplied with food (flour), it will just continue to produce more and more. Perhaps that helps explain why Jesus described Himself as the Bread of Life in John 6.

Now, pass the biscuits!