January 15, 2018 Luke 13:18-21
MEDITATION: Jesus frequently draws on images from nature and agriculture to speak of the kingdom of God in his parables. Here he compares the kingdom to a mustard seed and to three measures of leaven. Elsewhere in the Gospels we learn that the mustard seed was believed to be the smallest of all seeds (see Mark 4:31), and if you’ve ever baked bread, you know that all it takes is a little leaven (or yeast) to cause bread dough to rise and grow. A common reading of these twin parables, therefore, sees them as illustrations of the axiom that great things come from humble beginnings. That is certainly a legitimate reading of the text. However, there may be something more going on here as well. Jesus’ parables often provoke or unsettle our expectations, overturning rather than confirming proverbial wisdom. It is striking, therefore, that elsewhere in the Bible leaven is considered unclean (see Exodus 12:15) and that the ancient writer Pliny the Elder describes mustard plants as if they are weeds (Natural History 19.170-171). Yeast and weeds are difficult to control and in that sense they’re dangerous and unpredictable. According to Jesus, this is what the Kingdom of God is like.
FOR DISCUSSION: What might it mean to say that the Kingdom of God is dangerous? To whom and why would it be threatening?
LINKS/OTHER RESOURCES: Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish scholar who teaches New Testament at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and she recently wrote a book on the parables called Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. Listen to her interview here on the provocative power of parables.