“He offered them still another image: “The reign of God is like yeast which a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour. Eventually the whole mass of dough began to rise.””(Matthew 13:33)
This image came to mind as I was mixing bagel dough on Sunday morning. I love to bake and baking bread, in particular, is an artform. There are so many types of breads, rolls, bagels and sweet treats that can be made by using just a few simple ingredients and changing their proportion. I thought of how the amount of flour was always a greater proportion compared to the water, salt and yeast. Then in struck me that this could be an analogy for the Church. The flour represents the people, the basic building block of the church. The water, representing the priests and religious, interacts with the flour and hydrates it. Their words and actions are “absorbed” by the people, enabling them to become united in the kingdom of God. The salt is the collection of the pope, cardinals and bishops guiding the church, encouraging a good flavor by keeping God’s commandments. The yeast is the Holy Spirit increasing the faith throughout the church.
While yeast itself will raise the dough through a chemical reaction, kneading is the catalyst which enhances the process. Yeast is important but dough needs to be worked, in a rhythmic, folding motion. This kneading slowly changes the dough, more felt by the hand than seen. Although the finished dough is visibly different, it is the product of a gradual change that can seem endless as the kneading motion is repeated again, and again, and again. Then the dough is left to rest, and the yeast has a chance to do its work.
Each recipe is different and the doughs looks different too. Some are stiff and some are loose. So too, the church, while remaining consistent in her teachings, has looked different as she reacted to the happenings in the world around it. There have been times of persecution, times of growth, times of challenge and discord, and times of peace and learning.
The final transformation of the dough is when it is baked in the oven. The temperature will depend on the recipe, size and additional ingredients. I’d like to think of this as comparison to purgatory. The heat does not destroy the dough, but transforms it into a fragrant and nourishing bread; what the mixture of flour, water, salt and yeast was truly meant to be.