Luke 13:18-21


Trust in God – God of Abundance

Mark had used the two parables that follow to illustrate the nature of the Kingdom of God and its future destiny. Luke wished more to highlight the creative power invested in the community of disciples, provided that they themselves took to heart the call to ceaseless conversion.

Luke 13:18-21  -  Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast

18 And so he said, “What is the kingdom of God like?
To what shall I compare it?
19 It is like a seed of mustard that a person took
and threw into the garden.
It grew into a tree,
and the birds of the sky sheltered in its branches.”

Jesus did not call his comment a parable, but it was precisely that. Its conclusion bordered on the impossible. Mustard bushes are anything but trees where the birds of the sky can shelter.

The Hebrew Scriptures had referred to trees growing in unlikely ways and giving shelter to the birds of the air. The image nearly always referred to nations growing in power and being joined by lesser nations as clients and supporters.

The parable was a wonderful and defiant invitation to hope. To recognise its truth called for the ability to read the signs of the times.

20 Yet again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?
21 It is like yeast that a woman took
and blended into three measures of flour
until the whole mixture was leavened.”

This image balanced the previous one: a man sowed, a woman kneaded bread. Like the preceding image, this was also a parable. Its immediate meaning was elusive, as was its message.

Yeast carried overtones of corruptibility. When mixed with dough, yeast produced a far superior tasting bread than was the case with unleavened bread. But taste was at a price: unleavened bread lasted a long time; leavened bread quickly became stale. The leaven, however, could allow the woman always to start anew another batch of delicious bread.

No peasant woman was ever likely to leaven three measures of flour. Three measures of flour would have produced enough bread to feed a crowd of three hundred hungry adults.  For the sake of the message, such a proliferation of bread could not be hoarded: it needed to be shared immediately with all and sundry.

As Luke’s community heard the two parables, they may quickly have seen their relevance to their own situation. They were very much like the mustard seed – a small and vulnerable group of believers in a powerful and hostile Empire. The prospect of the Kingdom of God towering above other kingdoms and drawing them under its branches looked impossible to them. But Jesus was making the point that this was the Kingdom of God. Its power was not derived from human resources but from the life and energy of God.

For Jesus the Kingdom of God was about achieving the desirable but seemingly impossible. Like the woman of the parable, the small band of disciples, empowered by God, would feed the world. Though labelled a corrupting element by the religious and social power structures of the day, they would over time break down the rigidity of powerful institutions and change society according to the mind and heart of God. Criticised by the controlling elites for their sense of freedom, they would free the oppressed, bring release to the captives and, through the witness of their lives, preach good news to the poor.

Rigid Israel had been unable to heal and give life to the woman crippled for eighteen years. Jesus’ disciples, insignificant and criticised, would take on the world and set it free. But to do so, they must themselves constantly pursue the path of radical inner conversion.

Next >> Luke 13:22-30