“And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for
the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings
out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’” Matthew 13:52
As a lifelong student of Scripture, I’m continually struck by the healthy give and take between the core Biblical teachings and practices, and new social contexts and cultural situations. For example, consider the changes that accompanied the worship practices of the people of Israel as they moved from their wilderness wanderings and the tabernacle, to the period of the judges and early kings, to the time of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, to the Babylonian exile with no temple, to the Second Temple Period leading up to Jesus’ day. Or the adjustments that were made to various practices as the gospel moved from a completely Jewish-Christian environment in Jerusalem, to a Jewish-Gentile environment in Antioch, to a largely Gentile environment in Corinth.
For thousands of years, Jewish and Christian believers have wrestled with taking the full range of Biblical narratives, laws, psalms, poems, prophetic oracles, parables, wisdom sayings, gospels, epistles, and apocalyptic writings, and applying them in new situations, changing social environments, and fresh challenges. For example, Jesus sometimes challenged Jewish applications of the law, especially as it related to keeping the Sabbath, in order to emphasize Sabbath’s original intent as a gift to humans. But Jesus also regularly attended the synagogue, in accordance with the established traditions of his day.
Jesus told a parable concerning how a scribe (today we might say a teacher) of the kingdom is like a householder who brings out of his storehouse treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52). This parable describes Jesus’ approach to faithfully applying the Scriptures. What he’s getting at is that we are to relate old teachings and new situations in creative ways, to see the old in the new and the new in the old, to honor our spiritual fathers and mothers while at the same time listening carefully to our spiritual children. Another way to say this is that both new and old are valued; the new does not make the old useless, and the old does not make the new superfluous. As teachers today, we too are to bring out treasures old and new: the rich and varied wealth of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the bold and distinctive kingdom vision of Jesus.
Jesus’ teaching here calls us to humility and receptivity, to keep working hard to draw on both the old and the new, on both the familiar and the different, to increase our capacity to appreciate and utilize a broad range of spiritual wisdom. Unless we believe that we (or our spiritual predecessors) have completely mapped the “mind of God,” we must maintain a posture of asking, seeking, and knocking. May God grant us such hearts as we faithfully pursue being God’s community for our time, based on the teachings and insights of God’s people through the ages.