Jesus Loves The Little Things
By Elizabeth Varaso, Adapted by Becca DeWhitt
My daughter Clementine loves little things. For her birthday last year, we ate tiny hot dogs and made tiny pizzas; we served a tiny cake that we ate with tiny forks; there were small glasses and pitchers and plates.
She loves tiny things so much that she has chastised me before for making pancakes the size of a quarter. “Mom,” she’ll say, “That’s a medium-sized pancake.”
I don’t think Clementine is alone in loving tiny things. Consider the voice you use when you talk to a baby, or the face you make when you see a wiggly puppy. Think of the Instagram and YouTube channels dedicated to tiny things, or the tiny house movement, where people sell their homes and move into small mobile homes.
Tiny things are easy to control. They don’t involve violence; they don’t require force. A tiny home is easier to keep clean, a puppy easier to restrain than a full-grown dog, a baby less prone to trouble than a teenager or adult.
Jesus also loves tiny things, but he loves them for a very different, nearly opposite reason. As we will discuss today, in tiny things, Jesus sees an opportunity to hide power and flip power structures on their head.
Consider the Mustard Seed
Matthew 13 talks about tiny things. It reads:
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.”
When we imagine a kingdom we typically picture specific things. Kingdoms usually involve powerful kings and queens, large ornate palaces, and robust armies. Kingdoms usually involve wealth, force, and power.
Clearly, that’s not the kind of kingdom Jesus has in mind.
Jesus compares his kingdom to a mustard seed. Seeds are small, tiny shriveled things. Yet when you bury them in the ground they can grow to be thousands of times their original size.
Jesus carries the parable even further. For a seed, being eaten by a bird can mean death. Yet when these tiny seeds grow they become a home, a resting place for the very birds that once threatened them.
The word subvert means to come from below (sub) and flip over (vert). These small seeds become powerful and a blessing even to the birds. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Consider the Yeast
Jesus continues, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…”
One of the first things that stands out to me about this parable is the specificity of the flour. Sixty pounds of flour. That is a lot of flour! Why does Jesus choose that quantity?
As I was researching this passage in preparation for the talk, several scholars point to the old testament story of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was the father of the Jewish people, but his wife Sarah was barren until he and she were both quite old.
At one point three angels disguised as men visit the couple and Abraham instructs Sarah to add yeast to 60 pounds of flour. As Sarah is away preparing the bread the men tell Abraham that she is going to become pregnant with a son.
Sarah does a reasonable thing. Overhearing the men, she laughs. One year later when she indeed gives birth to a son they name him Isaac, which means laughter.
To make 60 pounds of flour into bread you would need between 1 and 3 cups of yeast. That’s small enough that you could hold it in your hand, light enough you could blow it away with a puff of breath. Yet when it’s added to the heavy flour it multiplies, it lightens, it transforms dry, powdery flour into something nourishing and delightful.
Much like a barren old woman pregnant with the first child of a great nation, the kingdom of God means radical renewal and creative transformation.
Why I Love Jesus
There’s one other thing I want to point out about yeast. Yeast is mentioned approximately 40 times in the Bible and almost every other time it’s a metaphor for the distribution of bad things. Bad ideas, evil, sin-something small but insidious that gets in and takes over.
Unleavened bread, or bread without yeast, was considered holy. Yeasted bread, on the other hand, could not be given as a sacrifice, and on the Sabbath there was no yeast allowed in anyone’s home, including yeasted bread.
Jesus’ audience knows yeast as a force of corruption and he’s referencing it as a force of good.
This is what I love about Jesus. He is so beautifully subversive. Touching the lepers. Healing on the Sabbath. Breaking all of the social boundaries. I wonder if the people who heard him that day were appalled; if their jaws just dropped.
Yet Jesus consistently rejected the status quo to show his alignment with the outsider, with the rejects, with the heretics and with the powerful. Story after story has him subverting the old order for the purpose of painting a bigger, more beautiful, more inclusive kingdom.
The Kingdom of Heaven Today
I want to end with three things this parable has to teach us today. We daily see the results of violence, oppression, and a top-heavy empire at work. Even when things feel alright in the outside world, we can feel powerless to internal forces like addiction, anxiety, depression, and self-harm.
What remedy and reprieve might there be when we feel powerless within ourselves and within the world? Let’s turn to the hope we find within the mustard seed and the yeast.
So today if you’re feeling small, powerless, or hopeless I hope you take comfort in knowing how very much our creator delights in tiny things.
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