The woman and the dough

Today’s reflection was brought by John Emmett from the Vic-Tas Synod of the Uniting Church.   It was wonderful to have John back among us, and to start us on our 6 week period of considering where it is that we are at the moment, and where we may be called to be in the future.
For those who prefer to listen rather than read the message, you can find it here

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 – Matthew 13:33

Jesus’ parables are calculated to shock,
to shake foundations, provoke uncloak disarm
to break religious tradition’s mold,
unlock living space, welcoming the universal, permanent presence of God.

What do you see and hear in this parable?

Hiding yeast in bread dough

The story is so familiar …
we can easily rush past its single sentence avoiding its provocation.

Matthew audience is Jews of the diaspora,
probably living in Syrian Antioch.
He has no concept of the church as an institution.
Rather, his church is composed of household groups
people living in close relationships,
worshipping in their synagogue communities.

Matthew meets with these household groups
To pastor, teach and form their members in the Way of Jesus
Disciples were first named as People of The Way, here in Antioch

We know about symbolism and the action of yeast
a living organism with ability to change whatever it is added to.

Yeast was understood as a corrupting, distorting, destructive,
even poisonous influence.

This meaning persisted in both Judaism
and early Christian religious tradition.

New Testament references to leaven include:

  • Hypocrisy – Leaven of the Pharisees
  • Rationalism – Leaven of the Sadducces
  • Materialism – Leaven of the Herodians
  • Sexual immorality – the Leaven of the Corinthian Church
  • Legalism – the Leaven of the Galatian Church

Leaven always received bad press.

It was intended to be used to make the ‘show bread’
ancient symbol of God’s presence associated with Abraham’s recognition
of the three strangers who visited with him at Mamre
as God, accompanied by two angels.

Bread used in the ritual of Passover,
derived from God’s visit with Abraham.

The tradition is heightened in the Exodus story.
In the priestly account of the story,
specific instructions are given to households
to preserve the purity of the showbread flour from the corruption of yeast
so that the Passover meal will retain its spiritual integrity.

Orthodox Jewish listeners were alarmed
about the presence of yeast close to any flour
intended for the ‘show bread’.

Avoiding corruption of flour was uppermost in their minds,
because the symbolism required the bread to be pure,
emphasising God’s otherness or holiness.

We know this story of preparation very well,
using Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday or UnitingCare’s “Pancake Day”
to symbolise throwing out any yeast infected food
setting the scene for Ash Wednesday at the beginning Lent.

This ‘show bread’ tradition survives
in a familiar form in some Christian communities today
through the use of unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord is our host; we are our Lord’s guests.

It is a hospitality which literally re-members us
into God’s missioning community,
the bread & wine foretastes of the messianic banquet
in which we will one day experience God’s full hospitality.

So assumed in this parable
is a Jewish tradition calculated to evoke the reality
of being God’s guests, enjoying divine hospitality.

So – this woman.  Who is she? And why is she slipped
almost sneakily into this parable?

The woman is a person limited by culture,
restricted by religious practice,
considered impure by her sex,
oppressed for her gender,
associated with mischief and manipulation.

At the mention of a woman, the audience is hyper alert!

They hope the cook will follow the conventions,
heed the regulations governing ‘show bread’.

Otherwise trust will be fractured;
culture and traditions underpinning religious identity will be ruptured.

This woman has the potential to act, to influence
to launch the yeast’s dynamic action.

But look, she is ‘up to no good’!

In the cooking area, hidden from plain view,
she has power to corrupt, destroy, distort.

She hides the yeast in the dough and works it in thoroughly
Until all of the flour is infected.

Her intention is clear –
destroy to the bread
rip apart the religious integrity of the symbolism
trash the cultural conventions surrounding Godly hospitality.

Although the parable begins with the yeast
the focus is not the yeast or the flour
or even the bread that eventuates.

The focus of Jesus’ teaching
lies in accepting the wholeness of the entire parable.

Put yourself in the place of hearers…
You are eager to preserve the integrity of the flour.
You need to trust the woman who prepares the bread.

But… you are alert to and even alarmed
about the possibility of yeast corrupting the bread.

Let yourself play the role of the orthodox –
those who are committed to the status quo;
“preserve the integrity of rituals,
ensure the continuance of long established traditions,
maintain a conventional practice
sustain the cultural power base”

But… Too Late, the yeast is hidden!
The bread will be spoiled.
Ritual will be defiled.
Tradition will be overturned destroyed.
Culture will be blown apart.

You and the crowd are shocked at the woman’s subversive act!

What is the word for us?
As we come to consider to whom God is calling and sending us?


Jesus is always on the side of crucified ones.
He goes to wherever the pain is.
He is loyal to the worthy.

This woman is worthy.
Her subversive action of hiding the yeast in the flour
becomes a symbol worthy of the Kingship of God.

So, the Kingdom of heaven is like yeast hidden by the woman in the dough…

Jesus speaks to the crowd
and especially with the disciples.

What question might we form in our language
to inquire of God’s presence in our own lived experience?

Perhaps something such as:
“What does a loving nurturing community look like?”
Jesus’ says the Kingdom of heaven is like a suffering woman,
who finds a way to overcome the things that oppress and stifle her
by hiding a living organism in flour.

A loving caring community looks like a living organism hidden community.

People in deep relationships
With those who are suffering
objectified …

Just as the woman in this parable could have been understood to be
in her culture and time.

Jesus’ invites disciples to be present to the woman in the story –
to be with her in her pain and suffering;
to embody God’s good news
of love, grace, compassion
to plant in the ‘dough’ of community;
so that this hidden ‘good news yeast’ will be revealed
in the transformation of the community’s life.

This is how the presence of God is revealed.
Not in flat bread,
Nor trapped in ancient symbols
or repeated rituals
but in transformed lives
and transformed communities.

God’s life-giving good news planted in everyday relationships
Seeded in the mores of culture
Released into the dry bones of tradition.

Not to corrupt, or distort, or destroy,
but to reconcile, restore and renew.

What a subversive revelation for the disciples,
who will later say they understand this teaching!

If disciples are be true to their calling they need to be up to the task of faithfully
embodying Christ-like compassion, sharing in suffering,practicing mercy and justice,
confident in God’s Holy loving.

Not just through church agencies or formal programs,
but each disciple living his or her conversion to the Way of Jesus
wherever she or he is, whatever the time,
wherever the place, whomever the community they are connected to.

Each disciple investing, applying hands, head and heart
to the conversion of their neighbour, because disciples realise their own conversion
is intimately tied to that of their neighbour.

Martin Luther King said:

“All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated,
that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality
tied in a single garment of destiny.

Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
For some strange reason, until you are what you ought to be,
I can never be what I ought to be
This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

This Kippax congregation says:

  • We believe in a God who is self-giving.
  • We believe in a God who is constantly generous.
  • We believe in a God who is not at work for the sake of God’s self.


If we become a community, seeking our own prosperity, our own interest,
trying to ensure our own future, then we will have misunderstood
and abandoned our calling.

Jesus asks his disciples -“do you understand this teaching?”

Jesus is not asking for admirers. He is asking for followers.
Jesus is not seeking worshippers. He is seeking wholehearted following.

Admiring Jesus is pointless.
Worshipping Jesus is harmless.
Following Jesus changes everything!

Matthew’s listeners felt the struggle –
preserve the integrity of the meal;
maintain the ‘purity’ of the tradition
uphold orthodox Judaism.
Keep the institution alive
Make it sustainable!

Imagine the emotions that ignited
When they realised what the woman had done!
There is a death for tradition to die
So that new life in Christ can emerge.

We can’t have it both ways –
A little of the old, the traditional, the secular…
We can’t remain the old community –
comfortable, conventional, predictable.

There’s a new community to be embraced,
a faithful community to be immersed into risks to be taken
life-giving seeds of God’s love and grace to planted.

Congregations too can become tied to traditions
preferring the comfort of well rehearsed rituals
the commitment to sustaining symbols

losing the realities of what the traditions conserve
replacing risking the Way of Jesus
with the security of trusted conventions
Turning the symbols into convenient idols …
Our call is to think about risky activities
difficult relationships
excessive demands
that challenge and provoke us to go the extra mile…
these are most likely to be the situations that God calls and sends us into.

Disciples are to play the role of woman
Hiding God’s yeasty good news in the dough of everyday living.

Matthew says:
“Hear Jesus clearly, unequivocally.
God’s presence is universal, unrestricted,   unlimited, unconditional…
The yeast of God’s love and grace
is for good, not evil; to reconcile, restore, renew.
God’s actions are revealed –
loving, extravagant compassion
reconciling, restoring and renewing all creation.

This then is the Kingdom of Heaven experienced.

  • disciples faithfully following Jesus
  • in the business of everyday life
  • hiding the life giving seed of the gospel in the lives of their neighbours.
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