The Kingdom’s Cadence
"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
July 28, 2023, Words By: Jenna Smith, Image By: unknown
Nearly a decade ago, I suffered a burnout that had me on leave from work for several months. A counsellor suggested that I do some light manual activities.
I made bread. My brain, foggy and tired, couldn’t handle deep thinking at the beginning of this painful season. In my journal, I simply wrote out bread recipes. Pages and pages describing the necessary ingredients for Finnish Rye Bread (use beer, not buttermilk) or Rosemary Focaccia (seep the rosemary in boiling water first).
The sourdough craze during the pandemic was utterly lost on me; I had already done therapy by yeast.
There is a beauty to bread making, a certain ritual to the order of ingredients, the mixing, the kneading, the covering, the waiting. While I am no expert, one of my great enjoyments was understanding, through the sheer feeling of the dough, when it was ready to be shaped into a ball and set aside to rest. It was an ordered yet organic process. And the waiting — the resting — was essential. There would be no rise without it.
It will come as no surprise that the woman making the bread is this week’s strongest parable for me. A small amount of yeast is kneaded into sixty pounds (60 pounds!) of flour.
We tend to read the parables of Matthew 13 through the lens of size (the tiny mustard seed, the teaspoon of yeast, the pearl amongst all the merchant’s belongings). The kingdom of heaven needs but the smallest start and then it grows, expands, spreads, ever better and bigger.
But I wonder how these parables resonate when we read them through the lens of time. The mustard seed needs a growth period of at least 80 days before the greatness of its stalks provide shelter for the birds. The net thrown to the sea requires a moment of stillness before it fills with fish. The flour and yeast do not become bread without the patient fermentation.
In many of these images, the kingdom of heaven follows a sort of cadence: work- wait- wonder. The “wait” is a fascinating chapter in the coming of heaven in which our labour is stilled (nothing can be done by our hands to make the bread rise faster, or the mustard seed grow taller, or the fish swim in quicker). Even the triaging process is removed from our hands, “the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous” (v.49).
This image, — and timeliness — runs counter-intuitive to our urge for missional efficacy. My dark night of the soul, medically termed a burnout, obliged me to step back from my labour for a time. Ministry quieted, colleagues took over, and I returned with fresh eyes. My biggest lesson was that life continued, even grew in unexpected messy ways, without my constant meddling and plowing.
Jesus ends with the blessing to us: “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven”. Notice his words, “trained for the kingdom”. He does not say “creates the kingdom by their sheer might” or “builds by their own intelligence” or even “prays into existence”. The kingdom has already been created. It is.
May we scribes be grateful: we have been formed to welcome, to prepare, to read, to bear witness and after this, to wait for the kingdom of heaven. The wonder expressed at the found pearl or at the treasure in the fields follows only the stillness of the fermentation.
May we scribes have the discernment and wisdom to know when this time has begun.
What in your life is requiring the stillness of your labour, at least for a season?