Thought I’d begin with a little humor… 🙂
So tell me, how many times have you read over a verse like the following and just skipped over the word leaven? While camping out in Galatians lately, this is one of the words that has captivated my attention.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Galatians 5:9
OK, so why, suddenly, is Paul talking about yeast in the midst of a smack-down to the Galatians concerning their slipping back into the ‘comforts’ of bondage? (I could write about that one for days!) He just inserts it like he had a mental lapse of some sort then goes on to tell them of his confidence in them. Hm.
Interestingly, Jesus did the same thing, but with a different inference.
The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.
But then, just a few chapters later, after another confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus gives the disciples an ominous warning:
Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The disciples look questioningly around at each other. Like us, being a bit slow on the uptake, their thoughts go immediately to the present moment and the physical realm.
“Oh right, Jesus said that because we forgot to pack a lunch for today!”
(Being on this side of the resurrection, I laugh aloud when I read this account, but truthfully, my response would have been equally as simple and present-moment.)
Jesus is incredulous…positively incredulous. (Think about the last time you told your child to do something for the 5th time and they told you they don’t remember the first 4 times…) They recently witnessed Him feed five thousand followers with a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish. And not long after, they watched Jesus feeding four thousand with seven loaves and a few more fish. Yet, here they are thinking Jesus is telling them something about forgetting to bring lunch!
Oh you of little faith, Jesus pronounces.
That had to hurt…this was the A team, the DISCIPLES who had given up everything to follow Him…
Now what in the world is all this talk about leaven? And what does it have to do with you and me? Well, it must have something to do with us or it wouldn’t be included in Scripture, so here we go.
Stay with me…
If you look up the word leaven in a dictionary you will find:
(1) a substance, typically yeast, that is added to dough to make it ferment and rise; (2) a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it for the better
Interesting…because “throughout the Old Testament and into the first century a.d., leaven symbolized corruption defilement, and sin,” (Hobart K. Farrell, Bible Study Tools). If you wanted to do a word study through the O.T. you would find that to be true.
Thus, Jesus was warning the disciples to beware of the corrupt teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (They had a penchant for adding a few hundred things to what God said.)
However, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, (I’m not making that up!) says:
Another quality in leaven is noticed in the Bible, namely its secretly penetrating and diffusive power. In this respect it was emblematic of moral influence generally, whether good or bad; and hence our Savior adopts it as illustrating the growth of the kingdom of heaven in the individual heart and in the world at large…
I love that phrase: “secretly penetrating and diffusive power…” That is what leaven is and does – it secretly penetrates and possesses diffusive power.
Baking bread is a pleasure of mine, so I am acquainted with the power of yeast; I also know what happens when yeast is old and doesn’t use its diffusive power to penetrate the ingredients and cause the bread to rise. It’s a disappointing experience, to say the least.
I wonder how much leaven is working in my life – both for ill and for good. For most of my life I have longed for the kingdom of God to be manifested in me, but I can’t say I have always been a vessel that possesses secretly penetrating and diffusive power…but I want to. Sometimes my yeast gets ‘old’ and goes flat because I have allowed the leaven of sin to silence me, dull me.
What about you – what kind of leaven is working in you?