Eternity 122 - The Parable Of The Leaven
(Darby) He spoke another parable to them: The kingdom of the heavens
is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until
it had been all leavened.
The way the term leaven is used here is highly unusual. In the OT "leaven" was always used as a negative metaphor for contagion - particularly the contagious nature of sin. Jesus even used it this way when He spoke about the contagious legalism of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6-12). Leaven was that which was fermenting, contagious, sinister, defiling. In the Old Testament if the clean touched the unclean - then it become unclean, but the reverse was not also true. Sin was contagious but holiness was contained (Haggai 2:11-13). Thus the unclean could change the clean, but the clean could never purify the unclean. Sin could work its way through a community and ruin it, but righteousness could never spread like that. It had to be guarded from contamination at all costs. A little leaven was dangerous and could ruin "the whole lump".
But this is turned upside down in the Gospels where the Kingdom of the Heavens is incorruptible and when the clean touched the unclean then purity resulted! For instance in the OT if a priest touched a leper then he was defiled and unable to perform his duties. However when Jesus touched a leper He was not defiled, for He is incorruptible, rather the leper became clean. In the OT if anyone touched a dead body, they were unclean, but when Jesus touched a dead body, He was not defiled, rather that person rose from the dead.
The Pharisees went to great lengths to avoid defilement, to not touch leaven, to be pure by separation from all defiling things. But Jesus went and sought out the most unclean and defiling people - the lepers, the woman with the issue of blood, the prostitutes, the tax-gatherers, the Gentile soldiers contaminated twice by race and contact with death, the Samaritan woman, and sinners,drunkards and the gluttons. He willingly plunged into their midst ate, with them, drank with them, healed them and called them to repentance and transformed their lives. Jesus was never defiled, never corrupted, never made unholy by them. They did not defile Him. Rather He transformed them! Jesus could turn being touched by a distraught prostitute into a moment of grace.
Leaven is all about intimate close contact. Its put right inside, its mixed in, its hidden, its intimate in the closest way with the flour and in that close contact, in that mixing, it leavens the whole loaf. In the OT view where ritual purity was a very important issue intimate close contact was spiritually dangerous "you could catch something", impurity could "accidentally" pass along to you from a menstruating woman, a dead body, even touching a dead lizard defiled you until evening. You had to watch your step and not get too close to anything or anyone. But Jesus got intimate with a sinful world, taking on the likeness of sinful flesh and living and dying amongst sinful people. Jesus died in disgrace, executed by Gentiles, on a cross, between two thieves and even this did not defile and destroy Him but became our purification.
The Kingdom of God is leaven turned upside down. Its the holy transforming the unholy - impossible by OT standards but possible with God. It means Mother Teresa can minister to lepers and Calcutta and come out a saint. It means you can minister among gangs and street kids and prostitutes and remain pure. The Kingdom leaven wins. Kingdom purity is indestructible. It means intimacy with sinners is spiritually safe. You can love a drug addict and still be a good Christian, you can be married to an alcoholic (though I don't recommend it) and the Holy Spirit will not desert you.
While we can minister fearlessly knowing that no food, no substance, no person can defile us we still need to exercise some caution. Particularly around the powerful and the respectable! The only place a Christian can be defiled is in their own spirit. When leaven is used in its negative sense in the NT it refers to hypocrisy (literally acting, using masks), (Luke 12:1, Matthew 16:6-132), licentiousness ( 1 Corinthians 5:6-8), and the teaching of the Judaizers in Galatia (Galatians 5:8). These are the sins of the spirit. They are contaminating attitudes that must be uprooted from the Christian community. But most of these wrong attitudes are spread by the "respectable and powerful" (Mark 8:15) not by the sinners!
The parable of the leaven says that transformational Christians do not stay separate - but get intimate! The salt does not stay in the salt shaker (but neither should it lose its savor)! Christians can be truly incarnational in their ministry without fear of contamination. You can go into a bar without losing any measure of holiness - providing you are holy in attitude. You can be like Floyd McLung and live in the red light district of Amsterdam and be Kingdom Leaven there. You can dwell in gay districts in Sydney or St. Francisco and carry out AIDS ministry and Jesus will be there right beside you. There is no reason to fear sinners.
A Pharisee being touched by a prostitute would experience extreme discomfort and spiritual panic. But Jesus was relaxed and gave out grace not fear. How do you react around "extreme sinners" ? Do you freeze up and run, or can you cope with being leaven? Do you have grace and acceptance for them or just fear and rejection? Are you confident that if you plunge into this messy world that it will be the one transformed - and that your spiritual purity is indestructible? Yes, you do need to guard your heart and your teaching and stay salty, but that is no reason for rejecting people. You can be leaven, you can get mixed up with this hurting world and change it. For yours is the indestructibly pure and incorruptible, Kingdom of Heaven.
1 Peter 1:3-4 ASV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.