Of Mustard Seeds and Yeast

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus uses two parables to help his followers understand the Kingdom of God.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field.  It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.

Louis Savary in his book The New Spiritual Exercises, encourages us to take time meditating on the parables of the kingdom like the two in today’s Gospel.  He suggests several assumptions to effectively doing so.

First, he says that “[w]henever Jesus is describing what he calls the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, it is more than a description of the afterlife or life in heaven.  In most kingdom parables there is always some activity, human responsibility, choices made, or a change of heart, all of which suggests that the kingdom is something happening here on Earth, a divine project that is in process here and now, something ongoing, something big.

Second, Savary suggests that Jesus uses “both/and” thinking in his descriptions of the kingdom of God.  He explains that for Jesus “the kingdom cannot be encapsulated in words – it is not this or that.  Rather, it is like a mustard seed, yeast, a hidden treasure, a merchant searching, a fishnet, a storehouse, etc. (things that, in fact, are not at all like each other).  No one of these images completely captures the nature of the kingdom; all of them and many more are needed to begin to comprehend” the kingdom.

That means we are not asking “Is the kingdom of God either this or that?  Seeds and yeast, for example, are very different.  So, either/or thinking would say that if the kingdom  is one it can’t be the other.  That is not a helpful way to proceed here.  The kingdom is not either this or that, rather it is like both this and that.  So Jesus uses different images, each of which highlights some aspect or quality of the kingdom of God.

How do today’s parables help you understand the qualities of the Kingdom of heaven?