What is it that links this verse from Matthew’s Gospel:
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that woman took and mixed into… flour until it worked all through the dough” Matthew 13:33
with the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 15?
Perhaps the main answer is ‘time’. I’m no expert in baking but I understand that nowadays we have ‘quick yeasts’ which really speed up the baking process. But in times gone by things were very different. In those days bread making took time.
Andrew Whitley, a traditional bread-maker, comments:
‘In the pre-industrial era, time was an essential element in bread-making… Bread teaches us in so many ways that fulfilment follows effort and real nourishment needs patience and time… he goes on to say that it is no surprise that Jesus uses the image of bread making in his stories. Bread speaks to us of becoming, of transformation. And that takes time. (From The One Loaf by Joy Mead.)
But we live in a time where we have ‘no time’. There seems to be no time for doing all the things we want to do; no time for the important things, and there are so many demands on our time from other people and other ‘things’. We live in a society which wants things done yesterday and there is no time to stop, reflect, think or pray. Jesus’ parable of the yeast speaks of a different way. It speaks of no choice other than to wait; it speaks of God working slowly and secretly, within us and within our world, bringing about his kingdom. God’s time is not our time; God’s ways are not our ways!
The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, Psalm 24 reminds us. And the reading from Deuteronomy is a reminder of this. It talks of the law of the Sabbatical Year, and here God reminds us that both time as well as our lives, belong to Him.
The cancelling debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-11), releasing slaves (Deuteronomy 15:12-17), letting the land lie fallow (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:2-4) every seventh year, were visible signs that the whole of time ~ and Creation ~ belongs to God.
By dedicating to God a portion of time we remind ourselves that he is ‘the beginning and the end’, the Lord of all time. In a different way to Matthew 13.33, the text in Deuteronomy is also saying ‘God’s time is not ours’.
Do we consciously, give some of our time over to God? Are there times in the day, the week, the month, the year, when we make a deliberate decision to stop whatever we are doing, and simply to spend time with God; to allow Him to show us His world through His eyes?
Harvest is an occasion when we think especially about ‘times and seasons’. Certainly that was true in the world of the bible ~ a pre-modern agricultural society. The annual calendar was closely linked to harvest. It was no accident that in Old Testament Israel, the end of one year and the beginning of the next coincided with the most important annual harvest festival ~ the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Booths). Even in ‘modern’ Britain and Ireland the rhythm of our educational year is closely linked to harvest time. Although nowadays, in the West the idea of harvest time has lost a lot of its meaning as we get the same foods all the year round, in much of the rest of the world harvest is still a season of vulnerability and joy, a time when the dependence on God and Creation becomes apparent, a time to remember the fragile lives that many of our fellow human beings have to live.
Two particular points come to mind…
First, Harvest is a particularly appropriate time to remember that we are not the ‘owners’ of time and Creation. Just as the ‘sabbatical year’ of Deuteronomy 15 was a time when the people of God were called to be especially generous ~ to ‘open their hands’ to the poor and needy ~ so, too, harvest is an appropriate time for members of the Christian community to express thanksgiving with ‘glad and generous hearts’ (Acts 2:46). In a small way we are doing that in our Harvest services. The food that we are collecting will go to people who are in need; who are unable to get or are simply unaware of, the need of good food or a healthy diet. In doing this small deed we link ourselves to that early church in Acts giving to all who had need. This is God’s world, not ours, and he wants his people ~ you and me ~ to love our neighbours both at home and abroad.
Second, the parable of the yeast reminds us that ‘time’ is more than a particular moment. When we engage with ‘time’ we need also to be aware of its slow, and even hidden, dimension. God isn’t about ‘quick fixes’ and we may find that frustrating. But maybe that is because we are not in tune with God. If we take the parable of the yeast seriously then we should take note that this is God’s world and we work to God’s time not ours. If we can do this then I know we will see a whole new path which leads to the kingdom of God.
I leave you with a verse from John Bell’s song ‘The Greatness of the Small’:
And so the kingdom comes, he said, In hidden ferment of the yeast,
In vagrants summoned to a feast,
In broken bread:
What’s undervalued in its place
Is charged with grace.
(John Bell, Wild Goose Worship Group)