Matthew 13: 52
52And [Jesus] said to [those listening to him], ‘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 is a series of parables that describe the kingdom of heaven to Jesus’ disciples, among other listeners. So now Jesus describes those who have heard and understood him as scribes who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven. As scribes, it is now their responsibility to teach others what Jesus taught them. (Matthew might have been describing himself, here.)
What has Jesus taught these new scribes? That they have been given a treasure trove of knowledge and must teach some things that are old and some things that are new. The new things come from Jesus. The old things come from what we call the Old Testament and what Jews call the Hebrew Scriptures. But the implication is that we don’t necessarily teach everything that is old. How do we decide what “old things” to teach?
It reminds me of my old friend Jim. Every year we go on a “long walk”. And every year he asks me questions about theology and scripture. Last year he asked me, “Jeff, what do you think of the Old Testament?” That was a pretty broad question! What he was really asking was whether we need to follow the dictates of the Old Testament, many of which are … well … hard to understand, unpleasant, and not particularly “Jesus-like”. Jim has two daughters and has always been troubled by the story of Jephthah’s daughter who gets sacrificed as a burnt offering because of a rash vow made by Jephthah. Jim always asks me “What do I do with that?”
My response was what I heard some time ago and believe to be valid. A good Jew would never ask if a story in the Hebrew Scriptures was true. They would ask, “What does it mean?” And that is what we must do with the “old” in this parable. The “old” must be consistent with the “new”. We must read the Old Testament in light of the fact that Jesus came to us, taught us and died for us. That is the “new” treasure. The “old” treasure points to that. If it does not point to Jesus, maybe it’s best not to “bring it out”. It’s not part of the treasure. Something to ponder during Advent.