Pastor’s Column July 22-23, 2017
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened."
In our Gospel this weekend our Lord again uses parables to explain the kingdom of God: the parable of the weeds and the wheat, the parable of the mustard seed, and the one on which I would like to concentrate, the parable of the yeast or leaven. It’s the shortest of the three and is contained in this column’s title.
Have you ever baked your own bread? My sister makes incredibly delicious Scandinavian coffee bread every Christmas. A couple of times I have had the opportunity to help her, which I know she appreciates because the whole process can be a lot of work. She starts by mixing a little bit of yeast together with the flour, salt, sugar, and spices along with some warm liquid ingredients which begins to activate the yeast. Then she kneads the dough by pressing, folding, and turning it. This aerates the dough and develops elasticity in the flour. Next the dough is placed in a greased bowl and covered with a towel so that the fermentation process or rising can begin. In case you didn’t realize it, yeast is actually a single-celled living organism which begins to feed on the dough and produces carbon dioxide as a result. The rising starts slowly as the yeast starts to eat the sugar and starch in the dough, and the carbon dioxide which is released stretches and expands the existing air pockets and causes the dough to rise which gives the bread flavor and texture.
Once the dough has roughly doubled in size, it is punched down or deflated, releasing the large air pockets which formed during its rising and more evenly distributing the yeast throughout the mass of dough. This process is repeated with a second rising, after which the dough is shaped and placed in a pan and placed in the oven to bake. Once in the oven, the dough continues to rise as the last bit of carbon dioxide is released before the yeast finally dies and the dough becomes set. A famous French baker once called yeast “the soul of bread” and said: “Bread deals with living things, with giving life, with growth, with the seed, the grain that nurtures.” So it is easy to understand why Jesus would use yeast and dough and bread in many of his parables. When he says that the kingdom of God is like the yeast which leavens the whole batch of dough, Jesus is using a comparison taken from the everyday lives of his followers. Just as the yeast gradually ferments all the dough, so will his Church, from its small and humble beginnings, eventually spread to convert all nations. And if you haven’t already figured it out, you are that yeast, you are that leaven in the dough that will bring this about. Vatican II’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, says: “The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God... They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.”
As you go about your daily routine I am sure you often feel like that yeast, which is worked, kneaded, stretched and sometimes even punched down. It is not easy being a Catholic Christian in our ever more secular society. But don’t be discouraged. A little yeast goes a long way. According to a commentary I read, the three measures of flour Jesus mentions would be about fifty pounds, and together with just a bit of yeast could produce enough bread to feed over one hundred people. If you stay faithful, feeding on God’s word and sacraments, you will be that yeast which will raise up our society and transform the world.