A few months ago I shared with you how in recent years my wife Susan and I have been intentionally downsizing – moving to smaller and yet smaller residences. While I was truthful about the significant decrease in square footage, I omitted an important part of the makeup of our current home. Even as the overall size of our house shrunk to less than half of the size we had once known, our kitchen remained large. And, even more importantly, our kitchen pantry in our current home is the largest of all.
Even though it was the largest, we were not satisfied. We hired a closet expert to maximize the space. She removed the existing shelving and redesigned the pantry from the ground up to the 12 foot ceiling. When the project was complete the pantry hadn’t grown, but its capacity for holding stuff had nearly doubled.
My family’s chef, Susan, did a wonderful job of filling the custom pantry with all sorts of ingredients from which she could craft meals from a variety of cuisines. Now that she has relocated to Texas for her new job, 90% of the pantry contents go unused thanks to my much simpler menus with less sophisticated recipes.
So, it was with some fear and trepidation that I approached this morning’s Scripture reading knowing it contained a recipe for a meal I would never make. Before I help you construct the shopping list needed for that rather unusual baking assignment I need to back up a bit.
Parables were Jesus’ go to method for connecting with his audiences. Within the pages of the four Gospels scholars count between 30 and 40 unique parables. In fact, more than one third of all of Jesus’ recorded teaching comes in the form of parable. This parable – the Parable of the Leaven – was chosen by the Jesus Seminar as the most authentic of all of Jesus’ parables.
Jesus’ parables, in the words of John Dominic Crossan, are “participate pedagogy.” We are called to take part. And, in many cases the struggle to make meaning is as important as whatever meaning we may make. In the case of the Parable of the Leaven, there is no scholarly consensus about meaning. Some possibilities include
- The surprising ability of something quite small to impact or grow into something larger. This meaning is often assumed when our parable is joined to the one beside it: the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
- The power of the kingdom of God to take the impure, the unclean, and the sinful and use it – even use us – to participate in and expand or grow the realm of God. It means that church isn’t a place for perfect people.
- The need for nurture. Like the careful preparation of a huge batch of dough we can expect the kingdom of God to come when we nurture it.
- The importance of extravagance and generosity. The kingdom is a place where everyone has enough to eat.
Reflect on your experience of hearing, pondering, and living into/living out the wisdom of Jesus’ parables:
- What parable (or parables) have had the greatest impact on your understanding of what it means to follow the Way of Jesus? Explain.
- What is your main takeaway when encountering the Parable of the Leaven today?