Stories Jesus told with women in them

A woman baking bread (Luke 13:20-21)

Jesus often talked about the Kingdom of God, and told parables to help people understand what He was describing. One of His stories was about a woman using yeast to make bread.

Jesus was telling a series of stories, and this story was tucked between two other stories, one about a mustard seed, and one about a narrow door. In order to get a feel for the yeast story, let’s take a look at the mustard seed first.

Remember that a parable is not an allegory, so you can’t go too deep into what each part of the story represents. Parables are meant to be told and heard, and are arranged in such a way as to get a single point across, to give the listener that “aha” feeling of “seeing” what the abstract idea looks like.

 “Then Jesus asked, ‘“What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’” (Luke 13:18-19)

A mustard seed isn’t actually the smallest seed, Jesus knew that. But there was a saying in Jesus’ day that went “small as a mustard seed.” The rabbis often used this saying to indicate the absolute smallest amount of something, like a drop of blood even as small as a mustard seed would still make something unclean, a ray of light on the horizon as small as a mustard seed would still mean it was day, and so on.

Now Jesus turned that saying on its head by pointing out how huge the mustard plant was, compared to its seed. The mustard seed represents the word of God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the gospel itself. Jesus didn’t look like much to the Pharisees, it was easy for them to dismiss Him. His miracles were interesting, but most people just moved on after they got bored with Him. Even Jesus’ own hometown had rejected Him, as Luke wrote about in the fourth chapter of his gospel. But don’t be fooled, Jesus was saying.

Mustard seeds in Palestine are like millet and sunflower seeds here. People commonly mixed mustard seeds in with bird food. When the mustard plants grow to full size, out in the desert, they can get to be twelve feet tall—pretty good for a garden plant! So it was no surprise that the birds liked to flock to the mustard plant, sit in its branches and eat its seeds.

And, in fact, the prophet Ezekiel used exactly this imagery when he was describing the Messianic kingdom. You can find it in Ezekiel 17 and 31, where God talks about planting a tree and “It will grow, putting out branches and fruit” and “Birds of every sort and kind will live under it. They'll build nests in the shade of its branches.”  Ezekiel even said “All the great nations lived in its shade.”

The mustard seed is one man, the Lord Jesus, planting the gospel in the most humble way. But the church which grows from the gospel will eventually overshadow all the other philosophies of life and will welcome all the nations of the world. 

Jesus was saying God’s word, though often dismissed, is active and powerful

The next parable also talked about the growth of the kingdom:  “Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’” (Luke 13:20-21)

We’ll look at that parable more closely in the next post.

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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