An interesting contrast came to mind during my Bible study with Tony Overstake – my pastor from Calvary Fellowship. We’ve been plugging along through Luke these past couple months and today’s section was chapters 13-15. Both he and I have been frequently busy in the last couple months, so we haven’t been meeting up as much as we’d like to, which means the text hasn’t been as fresh on my mind as I’d like it to be. Knowing this two days ago, I re-read the previous 6 or 7 chapters of Luke to get a real sense of where I was at in Luke 13. I didn’t need to back up very far, though, to pick up on a piece of figurative language Jesus uses to describe two very different groups of people.
In chapter 12, shortly after Jesus gives the religious elite a verbal slap in the face, He turns to His disciples and says, “Be on you guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy,” (v.1). As I touched on in my last post, this means not condemning others for doing things that I practice as well. In its proper context, Jesus is emphasizing to His disciples to avoid pretentions; He wants genuine followers, even if it means their very lives would be forfeit (12:4-5). But what does a genuine follower look like?
It’s here where today’s study with Tony comes into play. Luke 13:20-21 says this, “Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’” Here is the exact opposite usage of yeast than in chapter 12; it’s a positive thing here, but a negative thing in 12. So what then does this mean? It means we have a choice to make – a very big one.
Which yeast are you?
Do you seek out peoples’ attention in your prayers, service, or general charismatic personality come Sunday morning? Do you modestly brag about the nice things you’ve done for people or usually talk about how God’s used you to do something recently? Do you keep your eyes peeled for the debates about inerrancy, salvation, Rob Bell, etc.? If this is you, then at the very least you’re dangerously close to practicing Pharisaic tendencies. And oftentimes, I’m right there with you.
But here’s the yeast we’re supposed to use: God’s kingdom dwelling within us.
His culture, His teachings, His love, His mercy, His grace, His heart for righteousness and justice, and His desire to sacrifice Himself for the gain of others is all part of a kingdom that lives within our hearts and souls. If we use this yeast, Jesus says, the whole lump of dough will be filled. What Tony took that to mean, and I think is a powerful message, is that through our genuine faithfulness to God and His ways, the whole world could be filled with His spirit. No; it doesn’t depend entirely on us. It’s God’s Spirit doing the work from within us; not us doing it ourselves.
And yet this isn’t a license for us to sit around and do nothing. As NT Wright says, “If it is true… that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced. This is not an extra to the church’s mission. It is central,” (Surprised By Hope, 266). But what I’ve been wondering ever since my coffee with Tony is what it all comes down to: Which yeast am I? Which yeast do I want to be?
My first question is an assessment of my current situation. Which one am I acting more like; the Pharisaic yeast or the kingdom of God yeast? Usually it’s the former, but I should not be alarmed by this because there is the power to change. Which yeast do I find as acting more in line with God’s teachings and His ways? It ought always to be the latter.
This may go against some peoples’ deeply-ingrained beliefs, but I belief it’s never too late to make a change. John the Baptist has been regarded as a former Essene, possibly even a member of the Qumran sect. But unlike any of them, he believed people could change – he believed they could repent. We all can repent of our hypocrisy and strive for Godliness at any moment. It just takes a deep, serious answering of the question, “Which leaven are you living?”