The Language of Enigma


To what should I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. Luke 13:20-21


Parables speak the language of enigma. They traffic in subversive speech. A parable begins to untangle the knot of a mystery—but leaves you to keep teasing it out on your own.

So the parables are short stories that provoke and prod, start us thinking in a direction (or three or ten) and keep us on our toes. The good ones don’t answer, they ask. The best ones send us away with a handful of questions to ponder. Jesus was the master of the parable, enticing us with an intriguing story and engaging us in a conversation.

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like sourdough starter that a woman took and hid in 40-60 pounds of flour. The Greek word means encrypted. The woman hid a small batch of starter in copious amounts of flour, knowing full well the leaven would be revealed when the dough rose, as it was baked off and the loaves ready for distribution. This story hints at an intentional hiding and an equally intended revealing.


Baking bread is such an ordinary occurrence, really. You can’t throw a stone anywhere in the world without hitting a woman who is baking bread, making tortillas, shaping chapatti or injera for her family. Everywhere we are busy making daily bread, keeping the neighborhood fed. It’s hard to imagine that such work is revolutionary enough to usher in God’s Kingdom.

But this woman hides her yeast in the flour. Who will notice her slowly, subtly working more and more flour into the dough? Who will see her recalculating the ratios to produce a greater yield? Who will give her a second glance as she works the larger than expected batch into a soft elasticity? Right under their nose she is subverting and, soon they’ll see, exceeding all expectations.

This Kingdom is like that—right in front of us in daily ways that we miss entirely. We see one woman kneading bread and miss her coding the Kingdom with each stroke. It’s the lullaby that’s a liberation song, the bedtime stories igniting young imaginations for freedom, each meal an invitation to partake of communion round the table. We overlook the everyday people doing everyday things; we assume they are adequately domesticated. But right under our noses they are hiding and revealing in turn. A good kind of danger lurks everywhere.


A return to the stories of Exodus offers a sampling of women at their subversive best. Consider midwives who defied the death orders of Pharaoh, hiding the truth about baby boys and the speed at which they were delivered. Or one woman who hid her son as long as she could in her home, then hid him in a raft she constructed herself, and hid him again in the current of the Nile River.

Another woman waded out into the reeds to see what bundle was hidden there in the water–and when she discovered the Hebrew boy she hid him in Pharaoh’s house under the cloak of sonship. Seven sisters (and their father) helped hide Moses in the desert of Midian, allowing him time to mature out of sight. But like all leavened loaves, at some point the bread is visible and on offer. When liberation happened at long last, the sons and daughters nourished on lullabies and bedtime stories rose to their full revolutionary stature. They danced out of Egypt. Pharaoh had miscalculated–he thought the boys were the great threat. What a surprise that it was the women doing their daily bread baking, birthing and delivering of children that posed the real danger to his empire. But he never saw them coming–the coders of God’s freedom.

Sometimes the Kingdom of God will take you by surprise like that.


What will she do with all that extra bread? A feast, perhaps? Will she celebrate the lone sheep now back in the fold, the lost coin now found, the son returned home from afar? Maybe she will bake off the extra and deliver some to the neighbors’ house, where provisions are slim these days. Maybe she bakes off more still and takes loaves to the streets, ensuring those without homes won’t also be without meals, that the left-out ones will get more than left-overs today.

Daily bread may be her only business, but she will exude God’s generosity with each batch. The others don’t know where the excess comes from; they scratch their heads as they fill their bellies. But the woman knows. She’s always coding the Kingdom, doing her encrypting work to make sure bread is on offer for all who hunger.

Mary gestated the goodness of God in her own oven once. And in the fullness of time she delivered a Son who would be called The Bread of Life. Another woman, another hiding, another revelation of God’s salvific work in the world.

But for now we return to the small parable about a lone woman making bread, showing us a Kingdom on the rise right under our nose. She shares the subversive strength of the Exodus women and knows something about the generous nature of God; she determines to make her contribution with each batch of bread she bakes. You underestimate this dangerous woman at your own peril …


Image credit: Rebecca Siegel