The Yeast and the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13: 31 - 33 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 seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds 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 about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

These two parables come one after the other in Matthew’s gospel. This makes it a compelling choice to compare the two, and there is an intriguing distinction here. In the parable of the mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven is portrayed as a small thing that grows, without making a conscious choice to do so, into a sprawling haven for birds and squirrels. The yeast, on the other hand, has to be worked all through a massive quantity of dough before it can accomplish its task.

One way of looking at this difference is to see the mustard seed as evidence of God’s work in us. A lot of becoming more like Jesus happens without us really doing anything about it. This is what the church has long called “sanctification,” and it happens whether we make conscious decisions to grow or not. The Holy Spirit moves in our lives and softens our hearts toward him in ways that permanently change who we are.

The yeast, on the other hand, is evidence of the hard work that we have to do in becoming more like Jesus. This hard work is sometimes the difficult conversations with ourselves and those in our lives. Sometimes it’s an act of service that demands a lot from us. Sometimes it’s the choice to give up a thing we love but that’s distracting us from Jesus. This is costly discipleship, and it’s just as much a part of the kingdom of heaven as the mustard tree.

Where do you see the yeast and the mustard seed in your life today? Where is Jesus calling you do rest and let him work, and where is he calling you do get up and knead the dough for a while?