#12 – The Leaven – Matt 13:33 Luke 13:21

The Leaven – from the sermon on the seashore – Matt 13:33 Luke 13:21

Matthew 13:33
33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” 34 (Psalms 78:2)

Luke 13:20-21
20  And again He said, To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?
21  It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

If this parable shares the teaching of the previous parable, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, then the analogy again teaches the massive growth of the kingdom from a small beginning.  However, leaven is not used exclusively of good, it is more often used of evil.  Here are some other instances of its use:

  Matthew 16:5-12
5  Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.
6  Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
7  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.”
8  But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?
9  Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up?
10  Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up?
11  How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?–but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
12  Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

Mark 8:15
15  Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

Luke 12:1
1  In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Galatians 5:7-10
7  You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8  This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.
9  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
10  I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8
6  Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
7  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
8  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

It is interesting to note that in the symbolism of the Passover meal, unleavened bread was used because of the haste to leave Egypt.  Also, unleavened bread is not as tasty, but is similar to the bitter herbs which symbolized the bitter servitude and bondage they were under in Egypt.  Therefore, to the Jews, leaven most often would be considered not holy.  Remember that the priests (men) prepared the unleavened bread for the temple service under the old covenant.

The leaven, when introduced, begins a natural process of growth that is almost explosive.  In that sense, it is like the seeds of weeds or invasive plants that will take over an entire property.  The process can be likened to either good or bad outcomes.

The parable of the leaven follows the Parable of the Mustard Seed in both Matthew and Luke.  Some think that the pairing is intentional by showing the outdoor work of a man and then the indoor work of a woman.  If that is true, then Christ is showing that the coming of the kingdom is good news for both male and female. 

The amount of dough is unusual (about one half a bushel, which is enough to feed 100 people!)  That being the case, perhaps the woman is preparing for some special occasion.  The amount of dough would then represent the great importance and size of the kingdom.  However, it would be unusual for a woman to prepare that much bread, so it may be that Christ was only showing the power of a very small amount of  leaven in a very large amount of dough.  

If we consider the leaven as being good in this parable, let’s look at some further application.  Leaven has the power to change the entire makeup of the end product.  The bread, the end product, does not look like unleavened bread, and does not taste like unleavened bread.  It is completely different, as should be all persons who have received the good, (the good news) of the new kingdom.  Their lives have been completely changed; they are a “new creation.”

2 Corinthians 5:17
17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Colossians 3:10
10  and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,

Ephesians 4:24
24  and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

2 Corinthians 5:17
17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

There is a lot written by commentators about the symbolism of the leaven being the introduction of evil within the church.  However, Christ’s parables that discuss the kingdom typically deal with the coming goodness, hope and growth of the new covenant.  Therefore, I tend to think that the leaven in this parable is good and is an analogy of the potential for the growth of God’s new covenant people.

Psalm 78:1-4  A contemplation of Asaph
1  Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2  I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old,
3  Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us.
4  We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.

Brent E. Hughes