Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Something new, something old

And Jesus 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." (Mt. 13:52)

M. Eugene Boring, Professor at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth, TX, offers these thoughts on the verse above:
Matthew affirms both the old and new. Like a skilled scribe, he brings out of his storehouse the treasure of his Jewish past (scripture, traditional imagery, perspectives, concerns) as well as older Christian tradition (Mark, Q.) But he does not merely repeat the past. Alongside the old, he introduces the new, presenting the old in a new light, reclaiming it for the new situation in which he finds himself, seeing all things in the light of the Christ-event and the coming of the Kingdom. Even the unexpected order of "new and old" may be important: it is the new that provides the key to the appropriateness of the old, not vice versa." (From his commentary on Matthew in The New Interpreter's Bible.)
This idea, it seems to me, is in synch with the verses from the sixteenth chapter of John's Gospel, where Jesus tells the disciples that he still has many things to say to them, but they cannot bear to hear them yet. "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth..." (John 16:13a)

Being "scribes of the kingdom" takes skill and wisdom. Too many so-called conservatives tend to err on the side of making "tradition" something that must be preserved at all costs; indeed they often define fidelity to Christ as staying faithful to those enduring truths from the past. Too many so-called liberals tend to discard the faith of our fathers and mothers, or too much of that faith, in a desire to be "relevant."

We need more scribes of the kingdom: more people who are willing (and able) to claim and interpret the past in light of new situations and circumstances; people who can see all things in the light of the Christ-event and the coming of the Reign of God.

The Venerable Bede, whose Feast Day is commemorated today, was a gifted scholar who, at least according to his biographers, was a "balanced and judicious interpreter" of eighth-century tradition. He knew and understood that passing on the story to the next generation is not merely about preserving the past, but about imagining the future. It's about something new, and something old. In the prayer offered to commemorate this day, we ask God to "...grant that as as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world..." 

Lord, hear our prayer!

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