Jesus loved to speak to people in parables. In the middle of Matthew’s Gospel he presents a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sows good seed in his field…
The kingdom of heaven is like leaven…
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field…
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant is search of fine pearls…
The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into sea to gather fish of every kind…
After describing the kingdom of heaven in these many ways, Jesus then concludes with today’s difficult teaching.
“Therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
It is from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 13, verse 52.
It’s one of those lines that makes you stop and say, “Huh?” It seems especially vague in contrast to the clarity of the preceding parables. But let’s take a closer look.
Whenever I stumble upon a passage like this in the Bible, I try to break its individual elements down as a way to uncover a deeper understanding. Let’s look at the five elements of this saying.
The first is the phrase “every scribe.” What is a scribe? The scribe had an important position in the community among first century Jews. In Ezra 7:6 we discover that the specialty of the scribe was the law of God and the words of God. His job was to know the scriptures. A scribe spent his life studying God’s words and knowing as much as he could about their content and application. The scribes were Israel’s teachers of the law.
The second phrase is “who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven.” Scholars believe that Jesus is referring to a scribe who has converted to Christianity. The reason will become clear in the fifth element.
The next phrase is “like a householder.” The householder, the steward or master of the house is responsible for ensuring that his storeroom is full and that it contains everything necessary to provide for his family.
The fourth phrase is, “who brings out of his treasure.” The word treasure here does not refer to gold and jewels. The Greek word that is used means “a place” not a treasure in the sense the English word for treasure suggests. The word is closer to treasury, treasure house, or storeroom.
This storehouse would be filled with food, clothing, and other provisions necessary to take care of everyone in the household.
The final phrase in the saying is, “what is new and what is old.” At a meal, the wise steward would balance serving his oldest store with fresh produce, so that nothing was wasted. In clothing his household, what we know as hand-me-downs would be used to ensure new fabric was used most efficiently for the entire household.
Th real treasure the householder possesses is his knowledge and wisdom. His treasure is discernment. There is never enough of anything in the storeroom to save a fool from his foolishness.
And finally, most scholars agree that to some extent Jesus was referring to the new and the old traditions, and what would become the New and the Old Testaments. Remember, Matthew was writing primarily for a Jewish audience. Matthew’s ideal was that a learned Jew should become a disciple of Jesus and be able to blend the riches of the old and the new covenant.
For you and me, the lessons are many. The one I will focus on here is the need for our thinking to be dynamic and discerning. People have always been attracted to certainty. We find it comforting in a world filled with uncertainty, and the more uncertain the world becomes the more people cling rigidly to their certainties. This is why so many seek comfort in religious rules.
We are called to know more than the rules. We are called to engage our God-given minds in vibrant and critical thinking, called to discern each situation, called to meet people where they are and lead them to where God is calling them to be, and for that we need the emotional intelligence to discern the right balance of old and new to draw forth from our storehouse.
Here is a simple example. It is widely believed that patience is a virtue. But patience is not always a virtue. If someone is beating a child, you don’t wait patiently for them to finish so you can discuss the matter. The wise householder Jesus describes would know when to be patient and when to enact a holy impatience.
Another example would be selecting food for an infant child. You don’t feed a baby steak and lobster. You bring forth from the storeroom what is most appropriate for each person at that particular time.
The householder is not blindly activating ridged rules. He is wise and discerning, engaged in active thinking, observing and reflecting, and making sound decisions based upon these dynamics. May we all become such wise stewards.
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