Things Old and New
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
July 27, 2008
Scripture: Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52
“And he said to them: ‘For this reason every scribe that has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things old and things new.'” — Matthew 13:52
This saying marks the end of the series of parables of the Kingdom that Matthew gives us in Chapter 13, which is a chapter renowned for the wealth of parabolic teaching it contains. The author of the Gospel collected Jesus’ parables together here in the same way as he collected beatitudes and antitheses and simple sayings in chapters 5-7, “The Sermon on the Mount.”
We have just read how the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, small when planted and big when grown, like yeast that permeates all the dough, like hidden treasure, and a rare pearl, like a good fishing result (the envy of us summer fisherpersons who are often disappointed), and last time we read how the Kingdom is like the seed that despite great losses still produces abundant results.
Matthew gives us a hint of his ideal of a disciple in this summary statement; the ideal disciple is like a scholar who can mine the tradition as well as add new things to it. We hear him saying, “Whoa, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!” “The tradition still has good things to tell us, so be careful, study it and understand it.” Be like the prudent householder who produces from his wine cellar mature and fresh wines, from his pantry, cured and fresh meats, and from his special hoard, aged and young delicacies.
We need not be surprised by this prudence, because it is wise in itself and it because it comes from a circle of disciples who were scholars rather than activists, careful, prudent, and organized not excited and bubbly and urgent. They seem very like the Rabbis of that time, and may indeed have been a church led by converted Rabbis. Of course, there is place for such disciples in the Kingdom, as long as they know when to bring forth the new and do not just keep on recommending that we stick with the tried and true.
Matthew might have been a prudent scholarly type, but he does not neglect the excitement of the discovery that is part of the Kingdom – like finding a treasure, a rare and perfect pearl, a sudden “big deal” when only yesterday it was a tiny seed, an invisible power that changes things, like leaven in a loaf of bread. I would say that there is more of an emphasis on the “things new” than on the “things old,” in this chapter, and this is no surprise because after all, this is the same author who could show Jesus negating the old quite trenchantly in the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that they used to say, ‘ Love your friends and hate your enemies,’ but I say to you, Love your enemies!”(Matt 5:43-44). This is a reckless not a prudent man speaking!
Let us remind ourselves of the easily obscured fact that in the teaching of Jesus the term Kingdom is not a spatial category. The Kingdom is not a place, it is a state, and might more accurately be rendered “Kingship,” or “Sovereignty.” Jesus taught us that when God is the sovereign power in our lives, life will be for us like the finding of treasures, rare pearls, amazing harvests, big outcomes from small beginnings, permeated by an invisible power that causes all our being strangely to rise and to grow. When we enter the Kingdom we are entering the sphere of divine sovereignty.
The Lord’s Prayer is a clear and present instance of this Kingdom: “Father, your name be hallowed, your Kingdom come, your will be done!” This is the perfect Christian prayer because it is the simple recognition of the absolute primacy of God’s sovereignty in our lives and in all the worlds. It is the love of the will of God that is the beginning of the possibility of there being love at all. When we are tempted to substitute love, as a human possibility, for God as the divine origin of the possibility of love, let us pray the Lord’s Prayer, and come back on course.
So our Christian word for the perfection of life here and hereafter is the Kingdom of God, and it means the rule of the divine will, and it is like finding a treasure and buying a pearl, like leaven and a successful fishing trip, and like and like and like.
And why does our Lord speak of the Kingdom in parables, and not in laws, nostrums, mottos and mantras? Because the Kingdom is the presence of God himself and who can speak of HIm ? Try to describe your most intimate beloved matter-of-factly. It is impossible. You will tell illustrative stories, as Jesus does when he commends to us the absolute gift he gives us in the Kingdom, like the scribe/householder who deploys all his resources, old and new, to tell of this grace.