Sunday 19 July - Sermon
There is a little town in Sardinia, called Aritzo, nearby Seulo, another village in Sardinia famous all over the world because holds the record of 20 centenarians from 1996 to 2016, that confirms it is "the place where people live the longest in the world". It is worth visiting! Aritzo, instead, is famous for his pluri-centenarian tradition of the Pane Carasau. As a matter of fact, its traces have been found in the archaeological excavation of Nuraghi, which proved the existence of these Italian breads prior to 1000 BC.
Pane Carasau are thin crunchy flatbread of Sardinia made from the durum wheat flour, salt, yeast and water. These breads can last up to one year if kept dry. Again worth trying!
Why am I talking to you about this ancient tradition of Italian bread making? Well, because I’d like to reflect with you on the parable of the leaven, one of the three parables we have just heard today.
This parable is metaphor of the Kingdom of God, as Jesus himself told us. It points us beyond itself. What does mean for the Kingdom of God to be as the yeast/leaven?
For instance, I found it very interesting that for the inhabitants of Aritzo, the little village in Sardinia where the Pane Carasau comes from, bread always played a sacred and spiritual role in their lives. Those who could afford to have an oven, made bread for their families, and also shared it with their neighbours and relatives. Women used to wake up at dawn to prepare the dough. Before the fermentation, they make the sign of the cross on them with their hand, wishing and praying for a good result.
Leaven wasn’t always a positive term in Jesus’ culture. Looking at Jewish tradition as described by the Scriptures, we learn that the Passover ritual of eating unleavened bread was more a reminder of the stories about their hasty departure from Egyptian slavery. These stories were the soil that Hebrew prophetic and liberation theology grew out of.
The community was oppressed, scattered, and returning and their theology and practice reflected this arc. During Passover, they used to remove all leaven from their homes. And over time, leaven took on a negative association.
Also, In Mark’s gospel, Jesus uses yeast in a negative way, and warns the people about “the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” (Mark 8:15). Jesus’ disciples mistakenly thought he was speaking of literal yeast as if the Pharisees and Herod had opened a bakery! (Mark 8:16) Instead, he was using the metaphor of yeast for greed, harmful teachings, anything that could spread through society with ill effects.
Instead, in Matthew’s Gospel, we see a different use of yeast/leaven. A positive one indeed, which is shaped in the Parable of the Leaven. The Kingdom of God is like a leaven that could ferment in society and change society’s nature. How so?
Let’s reflect for moment on the properties of the leaven, especially what we call “mother yeast starter”, which would help us fathom the meaning of the Kingdom of God and its action in our lives and societies.
The mother yeast starter is a living being, able to grow. It has its own immune system, can reproduce itself and die. Fascinating! It is something marvellously active that produce the fermentation of the dough from inside.
The metaphor of the leaven seems to make apparent a main feature of the Kingdom of God” that it is not a violent and coercive force imposed from outside, but more like a leaven that helps people and communities to grow and mature from inside.
From the women of Aritzo, we learn that the fermentation of the Pane Carasau, the homemade bread required to keep the dough in a warm place, and usually the night before the baking it was kept under some blankets.
Also, who knows about baking, tells us that CO2 is by all means an ingredient of the process of fermentation. Interestingly enough, and differently from other ingredients, it can’t be measured. Nobody seems to know the exact quantity you need for the dough to grow. But you know that too much or too little will ruin the process and produce a half baked bread. CO2 is then measured by warmth and time.
Perhaps we can say the same of the Kingdom of God. Genuine growth and maturity may need warmth and time. The warmth of the blankets of the women of Aritzo, which reminds us of the continuity of our tradition (the transmission of faith from our generation to the next), and also the warmth of our own hands. As good bakers working on the dough to produce the fermentation, we work from inside of our communities and societies to produce a genuine change of hearts and minds.
To be honest I think that Jesus is our baker, and we are his assistants, but we know that He can’t do without us.
The other important measure for the fermentation is time. Sometimes I feel that Time is something we own, we can control, speed or slow down aw we like. The Parable of the Leaven teaches us the importance of giving things and people time to grow and mature without forcing them.
Following the natural rhythm of life is probably the most powerful meaning we receive from this short and beautiful parable. It activates just from inside, but has no power to change anything from outside.
Maybe it is time for our hyper-technological cultures and societies to reconnect to the natural rhythm of life. This way we can really have an insight of the transforming power of the Kingdom of God as expressed by Jesus. Then we would see the leaven of justice and peace, compassion and understanding produce more harmony in the world, a more balanced relationship with our planet deeply rooted in a genuine sense of respect and love for the spiritual rhythm of other people and their cultures, of our communities and their stories.