03. The Leaven In The Meal

He spoke another parable to them: The kingdom of Heaven is compared to leaven, which taking, a woman hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened. Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds, and He did not speak to them without a parable, so that was fulfilled that spoken through the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will speak out things hidden from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:33-35)

Today we come to the third of the parables that the Lord introduces with the phrase; the kingdom of heaven is like…and in this parable it is said to be like leaven, that a woman took and hid in three measures of meal or flour until the whole was leavened. Up until this point the two parables of the kingdom we have looked at, The Wheat and the Tares and The Mustard Seed, have revolved around the idea of seeds or grain, but in the parable we are going to look at today we find something of a shift from seeds and grains to what is produced from grain, that being flour or meal. We also see another significant shift in that it is not a man who is the one engaged in the activity of the parable but a woman.

When we first come to these parables there is a tendency to see them as stories that stand alone, but if we look a little deeper we shall see that they are all connected in a wonderful way and when taken together and seen as a whole we can gain some precious insights into our own experience of the processes we undergo in our inner world as we look to live the spiritual life. The series begins with seeds or grain in the parable of the wheat and tares and with a man as the principle character doing the “work” because in terms of our first conscious experience of the workings of the kingdom of heaven within our life we start out with working in ideas, concepts, principles or truths about the spiritual life. So as far as our experience goes, or at least as far as our ability to consciously connect our life to spiritual things, we begin with those things that are more connected with the understanding. This is because until we are seeded with ideas concerning the spiritual life, we have no way of thinking about it. We have to get hold of ideas or truths so that we can actively think about God, life after death, heaven and hell and spiritual life. Without being taught anything about these things we would have no conscious connection with them. This is why in the first and second parables we are dealing with seed, and a man is involved in the activity as seeds and things masculine in the symbolic language of Scripture have to do with our understanding of things.

However, in saying this it needs to be clearly seen that the idea that intellectual things come first is only an appearance, and we can see this when we see that in and of ourselves we don’t have the slightest inclination or desire for learning spiritual truths. Yet here we all are: seeking to know more, to understand more, to have our lives improved from a spiritual perspective, being willing to undergo spiritual struggle and temptation, to examine ourselves, to seek the Lord’s assistance so that we might be able to resist our evils and wanting truths so that we might be able to understand and love others better. All this is so against what the natural man is we can only conclude that any genuine desire we have to pursue such a life is something that comes from beyond and above ourselves.

Every genuine desire, motivation or affection we have for spiritual things is from the Lord, and we need to see that without Him being the source of this, we would only desire what is able to gratify the natural man and his loves of self and the world. So if we are to be able to seek truths belonging to the kingdom of heaven we have to have a desire or motivation to do so and this is from the Lord. So, it appears as if our contact with ideas is where our spiritual life begins, but we see that it is in fact the desire that underlies this search as the place where our inclination to spiritual life begins.

But as we have said these parables are written from our experience of the operation of kingdom principles as we look to live a life in obedience to the Lord’s Word. So, just as our conscious sense of natural life began when we drew our first breath so then we become spiritually conscious when we begin to come into contact with spiritual ideas and think about them in the context of our life. If these seeds, or ideas, or truths are to be sown in fertile ground then we must come to a place where we seek them from a desire that looks to the love of serving others, which is a desire for what is good. It’s unavoidable that our search will carry elements of self-interest, particularly while we are in this world, but if we look to the Lord to have our motivations purified so that a desire for good in the service of others might be strengthened, then slowly but surely those elements of self-interest that belong to the false good of the natural man will fall away. And our desires will be transformed into a genuine kind of spiritual goodness grounded in a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of others.

As spiritual ideas grow and develop within us and begin to support what is genuinely good, so we saw in the parable of The Wheat and the Tares, that we come to see in our minds things that are not compatible with what we understand makes up a spiritually focussed life. We find that amidst the crop of potential goodness are weeds or tares that represent our selfish tendencies, which when acted upon undermine our aim to live a life more in keeping with heavenly principles. This gives rise to anxiety that could so easily derail us, but the teaching is given through the Word that we are not to be anxious, that these things must be and so as we come to understand the process more fully, we are more able to cast our burden on the Lord who is in full control of the work being done in our life.

The purpose for planting grain is to harvest it so that it can be transformed, yielding up its goodness in a form that can be used to support and maintain by the body. The same kind of process occurs at a psychological or spiritual level within our mental world, or the world of our thoughts and affections. Learning spiritual truths is sowing seed in the mind, the purpose for which is to gain an understanding of spiritual principles so that our spiritual body which is made up of the ideas and affections of our inner person can be enlightened from the inflow of heaven from which we can see how we can be more useful in all that we do from a spiritual perspective. This is the incredible beauty that we read about in our reading on heaven earlier, a beauty that shines forth and is expressed through our heavenly or spiritual body, if through a desire for goodness we prepare our minds for heaven and so allow the Lord to pave the way to our becoming angels.

In that parable of the mustard seed, we have the idea of that which is the least, the smallest of seeds becoming great. While natural loves dominate spiritual loves, which they do when we first start out on the spiritual path, the kingdom of heaven or the rule of heavenly principles within us is the tiniest of grains in our mind – it is like a mere mustard seed. But we saw that as we look to live from these principles this tiny seed grows and is able to support higher ideals, aspirations and goals as represented by the birds of the air that are able to nest in its branches. When this phase of spiritual life reaches maturity, we have all the principles we need to enter into a third phase of spiritual life.

This is the phase described by this woman taking leaven and concealing it in three measures of meal. With the meal or flour, we are introduced to the product of grain once it has undergone the process of grinding. That there are three measures speaks of the process represented here as being full or complete, as this is what the number three means spiritually speaking. The product or meal is the goodness that is able to be drawn from the grain or truths we have taken into our minds from the Word and have processed in our efforts to live from these ideas and see what they mean for us in terms of our beliefs and how we live our lives.

If the truths and principles we are learning are to be made available in a way that really does impact our lives in a positive way, then they have to be taken and processed in the grind of our daily life with its responsibilities and relationships so that the goodness contained within them can be extracted for further processing. In outline, this process describes how we learn – firstly it’s a case of learning something new (planting of the seeds,) then applying it and reflecting on our experience to work out what works and what doesn’t (grinding the grain,) adjusting how we use the material from our experience of trying to apply it and then, applying it in its new form and so entering into the cycle of leaning again. This whole cycle is a process involving the leavening of three measures of meal.

While we shouldn’t become discouraged when we appear to fail at trying to live from spiritual principles, it’s inevitable that we will. This is because when we start to make genuine efforts to live from spiritual principles, things begin to ferment within us and heat up. Such times need not be seen as a failing at all but rather should be taken as a sign that the Lord is truly at work in our lives. The meal spoken of here, to which the leaven is to be added, would be a mixture of water and flour. We know now that the flour is goodness and water, as we have seen previously, corresponds to truth. The bringing together of these two ingredients represents our efforts to marry what we know with how we live our lives. The desire to unite the flour and the water of spiritual life into something that makes the goodness of heaven available to others is represented by the woman who is the leading principle of activity in this whole process. The woman in action here is the ruling affection through which the process of spiritual transformation takes place. She represents the spiritual affection that sits behind our motivation and willingness to make an ongoing commitment to living a spiritual life.

The operation of this affection from the Lord within our minds draws together what is good and true and sets it alongside those things within us that are evil and false – these are what the leaven refers to here because leaven in the Word always carries a negative meaning. On the surface it might seem odd that the Lord would use it to present to us a picture of the kingdom of heaven. Yet, again, we need to remind ourselves that these truths are presented to us as we experience the operation of the principles of the kingdom of heaven in our own lives. When we see this, then we can see that the Lord’s use of this symbol is perfectly apt. We have shades of the same idea captured in the parable of the wheat and the tares where what was evil and false was left to grow alongside what was good and true.

The main use of leaven is to encourage fermentation which leads to the separation of what is useful from that which is damaging to the product it’s found in. In this parable the Greek word used for leaven is zume which literally means to ferment. So the emphasis here is as much on the process the woman activates within us as it is on a particular substance she mixes into the meal. In the light of this, the parable teaches us that a genuine affection for truth, the woman when active within us, stimulates a spiritual process of fermentation, so that what is evil and false might be seen and separated from those things from the Lord in us that promote the kingdom of heaven. This process of fermentation involves the struggles of spiritual temptation which is the only way that the self-centred elements attached to our thoughts and affections can be removed. Our states of discouragement in the spiritual life should be regarded as part of this purifying process, the better we understand this, the better supported we will feel when we have to pass through these necessary states of spiritual struggle. Resilience in the spiritual life comes from understanding the processes involved and these are presented to us in the Word when it is spiritually understood. This is why it’s so important to remain in the Word, to meditate upon it and to draw upon the doctrines of Spiritual Christianity in our efforts to understand ourselves and the Lord’s activity in our our lives. I would like to close with a reading from the work the Arcana Coelestia which comments directly on this parable…

To go further with what ‘made with yeast’ and ‘not made with yeast’ refer to, it should be recognized that the purification of truth from falsity cannot ever come about in a person without so called fermentation, that is, without the conflict of falsity with truth and of truth with falsity. But after the conflict has taken place and truth has triumphed, the falsity falls away like dregs and the truth emerges purified. It is like wine that becomes clear after fermentation as the dregs sink to the bottom. That fermentation or conflict takes place especially when a person’s state undergoes a change, that is to say, when his actions begin to spring from the good of charity, and not as previously from the truth of faith. For a person’s state is not yet made pure while his actions spring from the truth of faith, but they have been made pure when they spring from the good of charity, since they now spring from his will. Previously they sprang merely from his understanding. Spiritual conflicts or temptations are fermentations in the spiritual sense, for during them falsities wish to link themselves to truths, but the truths reject them, eventually sending them to the bottom so to speak and in that way becoming refined. This is the sense in which to understand what the Lord teaches about ‘yeast’ in Matthew,

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until the whole was fermented by it. Matt. 13:33. (Arcana Coelestia 7906{2-33})

People in heaven are continually progressing toward the springtime of life. The more thousands of years they live, the more pleasant and happy is their springtime. This continues forever, increasing according to the growth and level of their love, thoughtfulness, and faith. As the years pass, elderly women who have died of old age—women who have lived in faith in the Lord, thoughtfulness toward their neighbor, and in contented marriage love with their husbands—come more and more into the flower of growing youth and into a beauty that surpasses any notion of beauty accessible to our sight. Their goodness and thoughtfulness is what gives them their form and gives them its own likeness, making the pleasure and beauty of thoughtfulness radiate from every least corner of their faces so that they become actual forms of thoughtfulness. Some people have seen them and have been stunned. The form of thoughtfulness that is open to view in heaven is like this because it is thoughtfulness itself that both gives and is given visible form. In fact, it does this in such a way that the whole angel, especially her face, is virtually thoughtfulness itself appearing to open perception. When people look at this form, its beauty is unutterable, affecting the very inmost life of the mind with thoughtfulness. In a word, to grow old in heaven is to grow young. People who have lived in love for the Lord and in thoughtfulness toward their neighbor are forms like this, or beauties like this, in the other life. All angels are forms like this, in infinite variety. This is what makes heaven. (Heaven and Hell 414)

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