He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (verses 31-33)
In Jesus’ day these were such common, everyday illustrations, impacting both men and women - one taken from the garden and the other from the kitchen. So very common but packing such profound insight.
The basic point regarding mustard seed and yeast is how seemingly inconsequential they appear. So, why does Jesus use them to illustrate the kingdom? The people of Israel yearned for the kingdom’s coming, envisioning its expansive extent and endless rule. They were ready for it to be impressive and powerful, reflective of the very majesty of the Lord God Almighty himself.
But neither mustard seed nor yeast fall into that category. Both are singularly unimpressive – completely underwhelming. Yet don’t be fooled. Both pack a punch. Once the seed is planted, and once the yeast is mixed into the dough, the outcome is in an order of magnitude exceedingly beyond their tiny beginnings. The mustard seed grows and stretches and matures into a plant big enough for birds to roost in its branches, the latter being an image used throughout the Old Testament in reference to kingdoms powerful enough to provide sanctuary and protection. Yeast, on the other hand, doesn’t remain isolated in the dough, but heedlessly permeates the whole, impacting every part, causing the totality to be transformed as it rises and stretches outward into a loaf, ready for the oven.
Small beginnings, yes, but don’t be surprised. The kingdom is at work.
Further, both the seed and the yeast become entirely hidden before they come into their own. The seed goes into the ground, buried and unseen, requiring time before signs of growth gradually emerge. Likewise, the yeast gets mixed into the dough, concealed. For a time, nothing seems to be happening at all. But then the dough begins to swell and rise, pushing upward and outward, indicating the yeast has infiltrated the whole. The impact of the seed is extensive, growing into a plant far beyond the initial size of the seed itself. Meanwhile, the yeast's impact is intensive, causing transformation throughout the whole batch of dough.
That’s what the kingdom is like, Jesus says. The kingdom is truly here, even though what can be presently seen seems small and inconsequential. Indeed, it may be entirely hidden from view. But the kingdom is certainly here. The seed is truly in the ground. The yeast is surely in the dough. The results are guaranteed.
These are truths I need to remember whenever my faith falters, wondering if the Lord is truly at work. So many times, what I can see of the kingdom seems so much smaller than I had hoped. Sometimes I can’t see it at all. It’s in those moments I need to remember my Lord’s stories. I need to remember the mustard seed and the yeast.
How about you?
Lord, the stories of seed and yeast tell me that you are continually at work. The fullness of the kingdom is guaranteed. Strengthen me to trust even when I can’t see it. Your kingdom come, your will be done.
Reflect: In what aspects of life are you specially yearning to see the kingdom come in more of its fullness? How can the stories of mustard seed and yeast re-charge your prayers and faith?