Today’s Reading: Matthew 13-14
Today’s Reflection: Matthew 13:51-52
51) “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52) And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Jesus makes this statement in Matthew 13, after His first use of parables for teaching the people. These simple yet profound stories confounded the scribes and the Pharisees, the so-called keepers of the law of Moses, but as Jesus had revealed to His disciples in verses 14-16 those who chose to open their eyes and ears to God’s truth would come to understand.
Afterwards Jesus returns to Nazareth, where He grew up, but is rejected by people who knew Him as a youth and can’t believe He could possibly have grown up to become the Messiah. As a result He is unable to perform many miracles there due to the lack of faith among the people (vs. 53-58).
What do Jesus words in Matthew 13:51-52 mean, and why do they appear here, between parables on one side and rejection by His hometown on the other?
Quite simply, Jesus is saying those who understand the Word of God will draw from the traditions of the old covenant (contained in the Old Testament) and embrace their fulfillment in the new covenant (contained in the New Testament). Those Jesus calls ‘scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven’ are the guardians, teachers and interpreters of the word of God, and the combination of new and old constitutes the treasure they were tasked with guarding and sharing.
One of the clear tenants of the new covenant was grace and freedom in Jesus, which would ultimately free the people from being trapped in the traditions of the old covenant, allowing them to have direct access to God for themselves. The people were used to having the scribes and Pharisees interpret the word of God for them, but the parables gave understanding to them directly from God. And this was what God had always intended.
Jeremiah 31:34a – And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.
But these traditions—the priesthood, sanctuary, and sacrificial system—were the power base for the actual scribes of that time and the Pharisees. So this new covenant (and the way it fulfilled the old covenant) were a threat to them. Instead of treasuring the truth of the old and the new covenants, most of them were more concerned with protecting their own authority. Likewise, the people of Nazareth were too filled with jealousy to see that Jesus plainly was the fulfillment of the old covenant and the one with authority to bring the new covenant God had spoken of through the prophets, like Jeremiah. Both of these groups willfully and pridefully made themselves blind. As Jesus explains:
Matthew 13:14-15 – 14) Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 15) For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
As a result they missed the unfolding of the salvation promised to them happening right in front of them. Pride and a desire for control can keep us from missing our salvation too. How? And what does it have to do with the old and new covenants?
Some Christians today embrace the New Testament and it’s grace and freedom wholeheartedly, but fail to understand the law that underpins it because they in effect reject the Old Testament. Common comments include: “Those laws were for the Jews, not for us”, “Don’t get caught up in legalism”, and my personal favorite “Oh, that’s been nailed to the cross”.
Other Christians are going back to the Pentateuch and trying essentially to recreate the old sanctuary system. They speak of the importance and undying nature of the law and make the case that all of these statutes and ordinances fall under Jesus command that if we love Him we need to keep His commandments (John 14:15). They tell others who refuse to keep these statutes and ordinances, like the feast days, that they are not saved. They ignore the grace and freedom Jesus freely offered and apostles like Paul fought for Christians to continue exercising (Galatians 2:2-5).
As today’s text should make clear, both extremes are wrong. The treasure entrusted to God’s people is in both the old AND new covenants. The beauty of the new covenant cannot be understood without the context of the old covenant and the history of God’s chosen people. And the old covenant is completely without power unless it goes beyond the symbolic nature of the sanctuary system and to its fulfillment in the Messiah. To know the salvation God offers we must embrace both old and new fully.