Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 23rd: Numbers 13:17-27; Psalm 39; and Luke 13:18-21. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I’m sure everyone has Easter traditions. One of the traditions I enjoy is Sharon’s homemade bread. When she bakes the bread, the whole house fills with its fragrance. I also have learned over the years to be cautious around the house as she bakes the bread because the yeast can be rather temperamental. An inadvertently opened door at the wrong moment can ruin the bread I so look forward to, but that same yeast is pretty amazing, as well. A little yeast can change a wet, gooey concoction into a delicious light and airy loaf of bread. I believe there is even what is called Friendship Bread. Once the yeast begins its work, you then share a portion of it with a friend, who then shares it with another friend, and that little bit of yeast continues to live on and on.
This latter property of yeast was not a cute gesture in Jesus’ day. It was essential. It provided one of life’s staples. Bread was a primary serving at every meal. As Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, its abundance was characterized as a land that “flows with milk and honey.” The exaggeration of cutting “down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them” was obvious hyperbole. Archaeology has revealed a mainly subsistence living in ancient Israel: simple four room houses and an absence of large scale, monumental structures or rich ornaments. And by the time of Jesus, especially in the region around the Sea of Galilee, the staple was a meal of bread and fish. Bread sustained life, and yeast made bread possible.
It was an ordinary miracle to the ancient mind how this tiny bit of yeast could ferment and create an unending succession of loaves of life-sustaining bread. And Jesus used this ordinary miracle to give form to His teaching. To the people listening, Jesus offers the message that what good they can do in the world may be small, but it is not inconsequential. Jesus’ words are infused with hope. His country was merely a conquered province of the Roman Empire. His Jewish faith was a tiny minority and the number of His followers was but a handful. Jesus was struggling against religious and political authorities. Yet Jesus was hope-filled, and He wanted to share this with others. Jesus believed in the power of good in the world. To every ordinary listener who may have rolled his or her eyes, Jesus reminded them of the ordinary miracle of the yeast. They saw every day the power of just a little yeast, and maybe Jesus’ homespun example gave His listeners the courage to believe and to be hope-filled.
Lent calls out our better selves. It focuses our attention on the selfless example of Christ crucified. Jesus dies as a criminal judged guilty of a capital crime by the seemingly omnipotent Roman Empire, an empire so powerful that its Caesars were believed to be “sons of God” and divinely led “Saviours.” That Empire lives only in history books now, but Jesus still inspires us to gather and to act in His name, in His living presence, this once crucified Galilean. Miraculous things are possible when we as people of faith believe, act and hope. What we do may be small, but in Christ it is never inconsequential.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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