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«The kingdom of heaven can be compared to leaven... (Mt 13, 33)

by Franco Cardini

The yeast, the flour, the bread.  Peaceful images of a distant peasant civilization.  And sacred images, symbols that continually anticipate the Mystery. The Gospel always presents itself like this: and, in that woman kneading the bread, we already see a reference to the Eucharist against the light.    But leaven - absent from the visible species of the Eucharistic sacrament  in the Western tradition; present instead in those of the Eastern Churches - it is once again the kingdom of heaven,  understood not so much as an eschatological reality but rather as a real presence, the substance of the faith of anyone who believes and wants to live the Christian message. In this sense - without immanentism or millenarianism of any kind - we can say that the kingdom of heaven is already here, among us and with us.

The parable, therefore, does not so much impose a simile as, rather, it gives a harsh and rigorous indication, a demanding delivery. The apparent observation that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven translates into a norm: Christians are like leaven. And being yeast means being mixed together with flour and water; that is, perhaps it means coming into contact with realities and things that the Christian feels foreign to himself and to his world, to his beliefs and to his aspirations. He may even mean accepting that the finished product - the bread that comes out of the oven - is such that the flavor of the yeast cannot be recognized in it.

But that will be an appearance: since in reality everyone knows that, without yeast,  soft and fragrant bread would only be the hard toasted biscuit, the bread of exile of the Jewish ritual.

I believe that few parables like this one of the woman and the leaven are suitable for a meditation on the social role of Christians in the "secular" and desacralized world of our West. The societies of the past - which perhaps were not at all better, more just or more good than the present one - however had on their side, so to speak, the "perfume" of Christianity. Nothing was done there, even from a social, civil and political perspective, that was not rigorously consecrated and blessed. So were the laws, the power, the government insignia, the flags, the tools of the various trades; all aspects of daily life were.

We leave it to others and others another place to judge whether all this contributed, and to what extent, to making our fathers better Christians than we are. What is certain is that, back then, calling oneself a Christian might have apparently been easier: in substance, it was no less difficult than it is today. But that leaven of which the Gospel speaks, then, was found everywhere: in institutions, in everyday images, in the widespread way of thinking of people.

Today everything is different. The flour of the abundance of goods acquired with apparent ease (we are speaking, of course, of the West) and the water of indifferentism and hedonism seem to have become the constitutive fabric of society. it is in this context that Christians are called to act as leaven. And the grains of yeast are few, they must be few, in relation to the mass of flour soaked in water that makes up the bread dough. The yeast must be a discreet presence, such as not to alter the flavor of the mixture and even such as not to make it rise excessively.

What better image than the constant presence and no less constant moderation in light of which Christians are called to make their presence felt in today's society? Their being a leaven - far from any fundamentalist temptation - will be their success not in subjugating secular society, but in orienting it, vivifying it, and therefore raising it towards a qualitatively higher perspective of life than that of lay people and non-believers . In the product of this continuous work, the leaven will disappear; it will even seem as if it never existed. But the product will be a bread which only the Christian presence has allowed to rise. 

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