“… The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
~ Matthew 13:34 (NRSV)
A computer virus can’t be seen by the naked eye but wrecks havoc on my computer system when its infected. We live in an age when “security” is also used not just to protect ourselves from the threat of terrorism but also the vulnerability of our computer programs especially in our vastly connected world of the internet. It’s amazing how something so small and seemingly insignificant can have such worldwide impact.
In our so called medically advanced world, we were still brought to our knees by the whole SARS episode and now we read about the bird flu crisis. Who could imagine a whole epidemic started through a single sneeze? It’s astonishing how something so hidden and invisible can affect so many lives.
Perhaps, if Jesus were to re-package our little parable today he might say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a virus …” and reworks what to many of us is an “evil” and “bad” metaphor to communicate to us the nature of the Kingdom of God and how it works hidden from our superficial way of looking at what’s important in life.1
The phrase, “mixed in with” in the parable in Greek coveys the picture “hid in” (I noticed Jesus likes twists and turns in his communication!). Later Jesus quotes the prophet Asaph’s words in Psalm 78:2, “I will open my mouth to speak in parables, I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world. (emphasis mine)”. A significant quality of the Kingdom of God is how even though it works silently and even secretly but its impact is no less significant. Furthermore, God has been working all this while most visibly of course through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (but even Christ’s work was largely invisible to the wider world during his time and even today!). For those who have ears to hear, and perhaps even eyes to see, we begin by noticing the presence of God in our world, and later join Jesus and cooperating with in “infecting” our worlds with this awareness and “affecting” our surroundings with the liberating good news of life with Christ here on earth and beyond in our words and actions.
PITFALLS IN THE PRESENT CULTURE
This whole way of viewing the Christian life is counter-cultural to what is commonly promoted in Malaysian Christianity today. Often when we hear the word “impact” we think of testimonies given by high profile celebrities, politicians, sportsman, in short, those who have made it or “successful.” We also equate the work of the Kingdom often with dramatic visible results of whole communities changed in a short period of time, or mass conversions in whether it’s tribes turning to Christ or people flooding the altar call of a particular church concert. Now, all the above has been part and parcel of our Christian history and there’s no denying that God is at work there also. We can be grateful to the Spirit’s power work in the lives of people who are open to the Gospel. So, we are not complaining about the above (as if there’s no value at all in them) .. an appropriate response is – we give thanks!
But ..the problem occurs when we miss God’s hidden work of the Kingdom where we are at (usually not so impressive), or what we do (mostly unnoticed), or what we may dream of in the future (maybe unpopular). It would be sad to miss all the potential spaces where we could participate in his Kingdom expansion right before our eyes because of misplaced attention on what is significant. Worse is when we fall into the trap questioning whether we have any meaningful part to play in the course of God’s ongoing mission here on earth before the grand finale at the end of time, because not enough emphasis is given to hear the words of Jesus, “… the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast…”. These words call us to see God at work where we might miss it.
The place of visibility though helpful (sometimes it can be unhelpful) needs to be replaced with a sense of mystery in how God works in the secret and when that happens we’re more open to surprises, to possibilities and new and creative ways that God is calling us to “infect” and “affect” the spheres in which we are already in (e.g. our campuses) and where would be heading to (e.g. the marketplace). Perhaps some questions could lead to further reflection and action:
So now you have four years (some less) as a student in tertiary education, apart from glorifying God with good results, what areas are there open for you to intentionally join God’s hidden work? (Try to focus on the less spectacular openings)
Think back on some of the conversations you had the past one week, were there any signs of interest in spiritual, moral or ethical matters around the coffee tables (or at the Mamak stalls)? How could you authentically connect with them as a Christian and genuinely connect them to God? (This is meant help us see what is already open for us)
What do you see are some practices that perhaps God is using to shape people more into Christ-likeness or open people up to respond to his love? How can you be part of this or even initiate something for people to be part of? (I hope this question will help us think of concrete ways ahead and also involving others along the journey)
Here I was seated with three guys all whom have graduated with their degrees and are working, one of them would be getting married next year and is excited about it. This meeting was our orientation meeting for what will be a pilot mentoring group that would meet once a month and work through Henri Nouwen’s classic book on ministry and leadership, In the Name of Jesus. One of them I call him Robert shared how excited and important this group is for him, he stressed on the value of relationships and serving out of community plus the need for accountability during these chaotic transitional times. He continued relating how during his first year studying in the USA, he was invited by a mature Christian to spend time frequently to meet up to study the scriptures together, share life and think about living for Christ and serving him in simple ways. This particular invitation and the changes he experienced by being part of this mentoring relationship deeply “infected” him on the values of intentional living and community. It also “affected” the way he sees himself today and how he seeks to honor God. I could see it in the simple personal choices he makes (like sacrificing sleep to go for a walk with his mom to spend time with her), his plans for the future (like settling down and building a family on Godly principles) and his constant awareness that he’s not just an up and rising young adult who’s going to make it in life – He’s a Christ-follower who wants to make a difference. Somehow, I can’t help but be grateful that someone hidden somewhere out of sight from the media who spent time with Robert that led to Robert becoming this young mature Christian whom I see today. I believe this concerned Christian leader’s contribution to Robert’s life ranks high on the Kingdom of God scale equally with any best-selling author. He may not have reached the masses, but he reached out to Robert.
“YEASTING” OUR CAMPUSES
Imagine in different forms and ways that this kind of thing is happening at campuses all over Malaysia.
Imagine Christians putting their energies in developing themselves personally and communally with others around the Scriptures and prayer. Imagine Christian Fellowships sitting down and asking hard questions on how they could participate in God’s hidden work rather than just going with the flow or stuck in a rut.
Imagine one by one Christians breaking out of a self-centered mode of existence and embrace a sacrificial attitude in relating to others. Imagine our programs cured from consumerism and infected with commitment towards mission.
Imagine people affected by God’s unconditional love through acts of kindness and loving attention. Imagine leaders rising up and making a stand for justice and peace. (Please add to the list …)
OUR MALAYSIAN MANDATE
In the recent Christian Federation Malaysia 7th National Christian conference at Corus Hotel in October, 2005, the 2 questions of Bishop Hwa Yung rang in my head even until today – (1) Are we Christians counter-cultural in Malaysia? (2) Are we REALLY committed to our country? I left the conference challenged that when we choose the road of counter-culture and commitment in the Christian walk here in Malaysia, it would mean for many of us first giving up our preoccupation with self-promoting celebrity-like visibility, mere human recognition, and placing our confidence in methods marketed that almost (often unconsciously) takes God’s mysterious presence out of the picture. It would mean creatively engaging in what seems to be the opposite (against what is popularly proven to work).
Jesus words gives me hope that recognizing his hidden ways ultimately works and has the final say …because all of it was leavened at the end – “… The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” That’s the hope that motivates us to choose the road most people don’t want to travel! And this is the right road ahead for us (because that’s how the Kingdom of God works) …let’s walk this path together, I think we’ll go far!
1 The picture “Yeast” was used to refer to evil or corruption in other places, cf. Matthew 17:6; Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1, 1 Corinthians 5:6) but here Jesus turns the metaphor around and uses it for good!
Originally published in the Jan 2006 issue of FES Scene.