16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): Three Measures
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
For the third Sunday in a row, Jesus talks about farming and sowing. Two weeks ago we heard about taking his yoke, and we considered ploughing the earth to make ready the soil for sowing. Last week we heard about the sower who flings wide the grain so that all the earth might produce wheat. This week we hear three parables: 1) the sower of the Wheat and the sower of the Weeds; 2) the person who sows a mustard seed; 3) the woman who kneads yeast into flour. Whoops. Jesus deviates from the theme there, doesn't he? Let's keep that in mind. Perhaps it is a clue for us.
Three parables this week--that's a lot to digest in one sitting. Parables need to be mulled over, chewed on. They don't digest easily. But here we are asked to consider three at once. What insights can we gather? Are there similarities?
They are not all three about seeds, but all three do involve growth. Seeds into wheat (or weeds); an impossibly small mustard seed into a home for birds; dough that becomes leavened. Leavened...that's not a word we use commonly. It means that the yeast has done its work, the dough has risen.
All three parables have a beginning and reach completion, but all three skip over time in between. The Wheat and Weeds parable skips from the sowing to mid-growth, then looks towards the day of the harvest. The Mustard Seed parable skips from the sowing of the seed--that seed so ridiculously tiny that it must get lost when it is sown--to the tree that is a home for birds. We are not told about the days of its growth. The Yeast parable mentions the baker mixing in the yeast, kneading, folding and squashing the dough, over and over, until the dough is smooth and elastic. But the parable skips over the time that must pass when she leaves it alone so that the yeast can work to make the dough rise.
What can this mean?
The Parable of the Yeast just might be our clue. It doesn't quite fit in. It seems a little out of place. Some might think Jesus just throws it in there to satisfy the women in the crowd. I don't think that Jesus just throws in anything anywhere. Let's look at this parable more closely.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
There is an interesting detail there in the middle of that parable. Three measures of flour. Why does Jesus say three measures? Why is this important?
"Three measures" of flour is mentioned in only one other place in the scriptures. In the very first book of the Bible, in Genesis, Chapter 18, the LORD visits Abraham and Sarah to announce the birth of their son. God had already made a promise to Abraham--had made a covenant with him--that Abraham would be the father of a nation and that in him all the families of the earth will be blessed. But no one knew Abraham in this small little country, and Abraham was extremely old and Sarah had never ever had a child. It seemed impossible. It seemed ridiculous. The covenant would fail before it ever began. But the LORD arrives--in the person of three travellers--with an announcement of a child. Before the announcement can be made, though, Abraham calls to Sarah saying,
“Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” (Genesis 18:6b)
Jesus knows all this when he tells the parable of the Yeast. He has studied the scriptures. When he says three measures of flour, he knows that all the people in the crowd will think of Sarah, the mother of all Jewish people. What else does he know?
Three measures of flour is a ridiculous amount of dough to make. It would make enough bread (cakes) to feed over 100 people! Abraham and Sarah have only 3 visitors. This is way more than enough. This is an abundance of bread.
A strange thing happens, though: Abraham never feeds the visitors the bread. He gives them curds and milk and a calf, but no bread. Why? Perhaps because it takes yeast a long time to make the dough rise.
Jesus is aware of all this as he tells the parable of the Yeast. Because he is Jewish, he also knows that on the eve of their exodus from slavery in Egypt, the Jewish people ate unleavened bread, because they were about to travel. People who are traveling do not have time to let dough rise. Each year at the Passover, Jewish people eat unleavened bread as a memorial of the Exodus. They leave their old life behind to travel to the new. Each week at Mass, we eat unleavened bread as a memorial of the Last Supper. We are all travellers on a journey. There is no time for the dough to rise.
Jesus knows this.
Jesus also knows that each week on the Sabbath, Jewish people eat bread that is leavened. Rich, delicious bread. Bread that has had time to rise. Why? Because the Sabbath was created by God. It is sacred time, abundant time. There is no rush. There is no hurry. It is God's time.
The dough in the parable of the yeast is for Sabbath bread.
All three of these parables look forward to a time that is yet to come. A time when,
the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father,
instead of being choked by the weeds that grow among them.
A time when,
the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches
instead of constantly being in flight and having no home.
A time when,
all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3b)
when all the dough is leavened. In the fullness of time. Sacred time. God's time.
These three parables give us hope. They give us something to work towards. A goal. We are not judging the weeds, we are growing wheat. We are building a home for all when it seems impossible , when it seems ridiculously unlikely. We are letting God work unseen, unnoticed even, until all the families on earth can savour and enjoy the abundance of God's rich, leavened bread.