“And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened'” (Luke 13:20-21 NRS).
Societies, like recipes, are a blend of various ingredients. One does not bake bread from meal or flour alone. Neither does any nation consist of completely identical citizens. There is diversity of race, age, gender, education, economic status, religious commitment, and cultural development, to mention only a few of the vast differences which distinguish individuals.
The ingredients, whether of society or food, may be roughly classified as active and inactive. If multiple inactive ingredients are mixed, each one retains its own inherent qualities without change. But if an active ingredient like yeast is added to inert flour, there is considerable change in the resulting mixture – the bread rises and changes consistency.
Jesus’ point about the kingdom of God (manifested within the Church) is that the kingdom is to be an active ingredient in human affairs. Christians are to impact society, rather than only having the world affect them. We see that exemplified in the city of Thessalonica where unbelievers charged, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6).
Too often we witness how Christianity has been affected and substantively changed by the influence of the world. For example, historians observe how the organization of the Catholic Church followed the pattern of Roman government once Christianity was accepted by the Empire.
Others find strong indicators of pagan influence (iconography, holidays, etc.) in many modern denominations. More significantly, we find some churches’ doctrine and practice accommodating modern culture in such areas as gender equality and the acceptance of homosexuality and trans-sexuality. There is no doubt that it is the changes prevalent in the secular world which have influenced those churches, rather than the other way around.
Beyond any doubt, it is difficult if not impossible to expect Christians to resist all influence from the culture in which they find themselves. There is simply too much pressure, too many ways in which we are molded, for us to resist perfectly. It is also true that in order to be influential ourselves we must be a part of that society and culture with which we are trying to work.
But we must never lose sight of the fact that we are to be active, not passive, in that relationship. Elsewhere, Jesus refers to Christians as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Notice what he says about the function of light: “Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:15).
As God’s people, we must not allow the world to dim our light. We must act to enlighten and to change, just as a lamp or a packet of yeast changes that into which they are introduced. When Jesus came into the world, such institutions as slavery and gladiatorial combat were pervasive. Over generations, these were largely abolished through Christian influence.
In our time, the tide seems to have shifted. Rather than seeing the world’s immorality being exposed and corrected by the message of Jesus, more and more often it seems that it is the church which accepts the moral and ethical standards of the world around it.
Jesus’ parable is clear. Flour does not change the nature of yeast. The kingdom must be like yeast, actively altering the world into which God has placed it. Or to use the other metaphor, let us be lamps and let our lights shine.