Christendom: yeast and mustard

mustard plantsThe Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast..” (Mt 13). There is much debate over the meaning of these two short parables. For a more traditional understanding, consider this post.

But some Christians believe that the imagery of the parables is meant to portray the presence of evil within professing Christendom. This is due primarily to an understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as a “mystery” encompassing Christendom (understood as organized Christianity). Christendom as a whole is understood to contain evil elements mixed with the good, so both parables are usually viewed as picturing that evil. The birds nesting in the mustard tree are unbelievers. It is also pointed out that yeast is often a symbol of evil (Exod 12:15, 19; Matt 16:6, 11–12; 1 Cor 5:6–8; Gal 5:9; but see Lev 7:13–14; 23:17) and so it is asserted that the parable of the yeast portrays the growth of evil within Christendom. This view of the parables is often held in conscious opposition to a view which understands the images of the growth of the Kingdom in the two parables as indicating the ultimate conversion of the world to Christianity before Christ returns. Continue reading

Paying Attention

The second, longest, and most complex of this Gospel’s narrated exorcisms, Mark 5:1-20 is a tale of terror. Jesus encounters a demoniac who horrifies his neighbors by howling among tombs commandeered by diabolical powers that provoke him to appalling self-abuse. The man is impossible to restrain.

To the original hearers of the account, the story screams religious impurity because of its contact with corpses. The original hears probably heard the echo of Isaiah (65:4) describing the rebellious, stubborn nation of Israel as people who inhabit tombs and eat swine’s flesh. And then there is the demonic possession. Which in itself is bad, but again, the original listeners, when they hear the name “Legion” (Mark 5:9), pile on their revulsion at the memory of their suffering and trauma at the hands of imperial soldiers.  The man is menaced and menacing. Who could come near? What cure is possible?

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