SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 13:33 NIV
Listen carefully as I read this parable from two different translations. First, from the New International Version.
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
And now from the Common English Bible.
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
We will explore how words make a difference in interpreting the parable. What do you think are the important difference between these translations.
LEADER The Word of God that is still speaking.
ALL: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE Taste and See: 3 Measures of Flour
What struck you as different between the two translations? And, after we look at this, we will explore what difference it makes to how we understand the parable. I’ll be using Amy-Jill Levine’s book, Short Stories of Jesus, where she brings her expertise in knowing the Hebrew culture at the time of Jesus plus her knowledge of Greek and her provocative challenges to us to rethink this well-known parable. She challenges us to set aside our “white bread” and “crumbs” interpretations that are more obvious and dig deeper into the more hidden insights Jesus might have been surfacing.
It challenges us to TASTE AND SEE the tastier crumbs from it. Think of the tastier treat as like sampling many kinds of bread. We will do just that in a session of the group study this fall called TASTE AND SEE. Session 3 of the study is called “Chewing on the Bread of Life.”
My mouth is already watering to think of the many varieties of bread that come from yeast and flour – sourdough, rye, bagels, sweet breads like cinnamon rolls. Yum, remembering my grandma’s fresh, hot caramel pecan rolls.
Jesus had lots to say in this little parable about the yeast, and too often we stop at the obvious, without sampling the others. So, I return to the question. What struck you as different between the two translations?
Yeast vs leaven. In Biblical times leaven was a sourdough starter, not little packets of yeast. But not much more to say about this.
Mixed vs hid. More about this later.
3 measures vs 60 pounds of flour: According to Levine, a measure was between 40 and 60 pounds, so three measures would have been 120 to 180 pounds of flour. Now that’s a lot of bread! Way too much for one woman to knead or to consume. Reminds me of us at St. Paul’s UMC during the chicken and noodle dinner prep. There’s a lot of noodles.
The translations of 60 pounds shortchange the message of abundance of this parable. Three measures of flour is definitely an image of abundance, of an overflowing feast, almost like the story in John 2 of the abundance of the 60 gallons of good wine at the wedding in Cana. Or Jesus feeding of the 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish.
There are several connections within the Old Testament with three measures of flour.
In Genesis 18, when three angels show up at Abraham’s tent, he asks Sarah to prepare a little feast – “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes. (Gen. 18:6).
What an understatement, calling that a little feast! This amount of rising bread would be more like the tables heaped with drying noodles filling the entire fellowship hall and parlor when we prepare for the chicken and noodle dinner.
Back to Sarah’s story – the angels tell this woman who is way past childbearing age she is to have a son! She laughs. “Shall I have pleasure?”
Another possible connection comes from 1 Samuel 1. When Hannah takes her son, a gift from God she received after her sincere prayers and promise to dedicate the boy Samuel to priestly service, she takes Samuel to the priest, along with an ephah (ee’ fuh) of flour, which is equivalent to three measures of flour. This generous offering of Hannah has three things in common with the parable of the yeast: the amount, the flour and that it was a woman central to each story.
The last phrases highlighted are “worked through the dough” vs “all leavened.” These basically mean the same thing, so I will say no more.
Exploring the parable further: The most common interpretations are what Levine calls the “initial crumbs.” She warns us to “clean out the palates of both the bland, white-bread interpretations and the toxic ones as well.”
Here’s the first one she calls bland. “As yeast leavens the dough, so the growth of the kingdom is inevitable.” I’ve heard that one before, and it has obvious truth. A few good evangelists bring many into the Christian fold.
Another that is also true but a bit bland: “God’s rule, like yeast, working in a hidden way, will pervade one’s life, giving it a new quality.”  This is pretty obvious.
Allegorical interpretations, such as the dough represents the whole world OR the dough represents the individual, are plausible but not profound; white bread, she calls them.
She suggests we can deepen our walk with Jesus better by attending to the function of bread in Jesus’ ministry. Now that is something we can chew on. Take some examples:
- Give us this day our daily break, which harks back to the daily provision of God, like the provision of manna in the wilderness when the Israelites were wandering in the desert,
- OR the ravens that fed Elijah when he was to the point of starvation,
- OR the image of the giant banquet that God will provide. “People from the east and west, from the north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29). Hold onto that tasty bite and remember it in two weeks when we celebrate Communion. OR hold on to it this morning when we dine together, including tasty morsels of bread with our meal. 
But here is the key that I found most interesting. The difference between translations with “mixed” verses “hidden.” Words matter. Hidden is a much deeper translation and it reflects the original language in Greek used in the parable. Enkrypto comes from the root word that means “hide.” Think of as closer to encryption, what we do to hide our confidential information on the internet. Or cryptology, the code-breakers.
“Matthew spoke in parables ‘to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet’; Jesus says, ‘I will open my mout to speak in parables: I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world’ (13:35).”
Jesus hid his true identity, as when he told the disciples not to reveal who he truly was because the time was not right yet. “’ ‘Hiding,’ like ‘yeast’ … in this parable… will lead to something wonderful.”  And we know that this is what happened. Temporarily, the truth was hidden, but it could not be hidden forever. Levine notes:
“Colosians 3:30 proclaims that the lives of Jesus’s followers are currently ‘hidden with Christ in God,’ but will be revealed when Jesus is made manifest. According to 1 Timothy 5:25, ‘Good works are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.’”
The truth hidden like the yeast in the woman’s bread could not be hidden forever.
Final note: the parable may indeed be pointing back to Genesis 18, the “unexpected, miraculous, mysterious pregnancy (of Sarah).” Levine’s insights: pregnancy and childbirth have long been associated in Jewish thought with the messianic age – the age that that we associate with Jesus as messiah. 2 Esdras 4:39-40, a part of the Apocrypha, says, “Go and ask a pregnant woman whether, when her nine months have been completed, her womb can keep the fetus within her any longer.” Or the writings of Paul to the Romans, 8:22, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Is this a deeper meaning we can chew on?
There are even more, but we haven’t time to explore them today.
I simply close by reminding us of the wonderful words of scripture that can open our hearts to Christ. And to tease us into wanting to taste and see more of scripture, more of discipling, more of breaking bread together. Maybe another hidden meaning is simply pointing to the communal oven of a congregation. Is there yeast hidden in our gathering for fellowship dinner?
Come and See. Taste and See.
 Amy-Jill Levine, “The Kingdom of Heaven Is like Yeast,” in Short Stories by Jesus: The enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, (HarperOne, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014), 106-125.
 Ibid. 108.
 Ibid. 109.
 Ibid. 121.
 Ibid. 124.