Throwing out “treasures” new and old.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

Because the Spirit’s correcting us—assuming we let him.

Mark 4.33-34, Matthew 13.34-35, 13.51-53

After Jesus taught a string of parables in Mark 4, Matthew 13, and Luke 8, Matthew had him wrap it up with one final parable:

Matthew 13.51-53 KWL
51 Did you understand all this?”
They told Jesus, “Yes.”
52 Jesus told them, “This is why every scribe who’s studied heaven’s kingdom is like a person—
a householder who throws out new and old things from his treasury.”
53 Once Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.

I realize most translations prefer to describe the householder as “bringeth forth out of his treasure,” Mt 13.52 KJV as if he’s showing off his riches, like King Hezekiah ben Elah. 2Ki 20.12-19 (Which, if you know that story, should give you an idea of where I’m headed with this.)

On this basis they wanna claim this is a teacher to whom Jesus has granted lots of wisdom, both new and old. But Jesus didn’t describe him as bringing out things, but ekvállei/“throwing out” things. He’s not keeping them. Exposure to God’s kingdom has taught him these things are crap. They don’t deserve to be in his treasury.

’Cause let me tell you, that’s what practicing theologians find ourselves doing more often than not. Once we get a fuller understanding about how God really feels about things, we either have to shut our eyes and go into serious denial—and pretty much stop practicing—or we gotta reprioritize everything. Seriously, everything. Top to bottom. Our culture significantly misrepresents Jesus, same as the Sadducees and Pharisees were misrepresenting the LORD in Jesus’s day. Any scribe, or biblical scholar, who really studies God’s kingdom, who finds out what God really wants and expects of his people, is gonna have a lot of house-cleaning to do with their existing beliefs. I sure did. Most Christians do.

Problem is, a lot of these beliefs are in our treasuries. They’re beloved. Treasured. Precious.

Okay, I don’t own a treasury. Nor a safe. I don’t own valuables. But when my parents first moved into their home, there was one bedroom with a special deadbolt lock on the door, ’cause the previous owners designated that room their treasury, and kept valuables in it. (Or at least we really hope valuables, and not kidnap victims. But I digress.) Wealthy people in the first century, knowing it was entirely on them to keep their valuables safe, likewise had extra-secure rooms for their most valuable possessions. They wanted to hold onto them no matter what.

Some of us are that way with our most cherished beliefs. We’re not giving ’em up without a fight. Heck, some of us have preemptively started fighting for them already. Go to certain discussion boards on the internet, and you’ll find people fighting tooth and nail for these beliefs, even though nobody’s really threatening to take ’em away. They think it their duty as Christians to wage war for their doctrines. They believe what they believe, and nobody can tell ’em different.

Not even the Holy Spirit.

And that’s when things get scary. ’Cause it’s the Spirit’s job to make us doubt the things we shouldn’t believe. He’s trying to guide us to the truth, remember? Jn 16.13 There are things in our spiritual treasuries which have no business in there. Some of ’em are new; some of ’em are very, very old. All of them are getting in God’s way. They gotta go!

And if we cling to these bad beliefs too tightly, stands to reason we’re not gonna fully understand Jesus’s parables. Nor want to. They’ll never become our treasure. The other things already are.

New and old valuables to show off?

I get why Christians have historically claimed Jesus is describing someone with new and old wisdom to show off. It’s because they presume this scribe who studied heaven’s kingdom, never studied anything else. Never traveled the long dark path, like Paul of Tarsus once did, before finally coming into the light. Never spent a few years surrounded by dark Christians. Didn’t have anything in the treasury before it was filled with good things.

Hey, if you grew up Christian, and you were raised by good Christians, most of the time you wouldn’t have a treasury which needs cleaning out. (Much.)

But obviously I don’t share that experience. I grew up Christian, but I learned a lot of junk. I’m still unlearning it. And there are plenty of pagans who gradually became Christian, and as a result didn’t just drop all their paganism when they turned to Jesus: It’s still in them, messing with and mixing up their new Christian beliefs. Hence all of us have to do house-cleaning.

Really, even the lifelong Christians need to do some housecleaning from time to time. As I regularly point out on this blog, our culture takes a lot of scriptures out of context and claims some really warped—but popular!—things based on ’em. Trustworthy people will unknowingly repeat some of the rubbish, and because we trust them, we’ll trust their teachings, instead of doing “the Beroean thing” and double-checking everything. Ac 17.10-11 Our treasures, new and old, wind up a mixture of treasure and trash. Unintentionally, but still.

It’s only the prideful who assume it’ll all be treasure.

And it feels like it’s only the prideful who write the biblical commentaries. They all assume they, and any bible teacher, are gonna be able to draw from this storeroom of riches God’s trained them with.

The only exceptions are those commentators who believe Jesus was really talking about himself—that he’s the householder, he’s the scribe trained in the kingdom. For Christians ultimately have only one teacher, Mt 23.8 and that’d be Christ Jesus. Mt 23.10 His treasury is nothing but infinite riches.

I like that interpretation better than the idea these treasuries are ours alone… but I still keep coming back to ekvállei, and would wonder why Jesus is throwing out his treasures. Maybe he’s just giving us his surplus; I like that idea. But this interpretation still has its problems.

Training teachers of the kingdom.

Though Christians ultimately have only one teacher, bear in mind the reason Jesus trained students was ’cause he intended for them—and us, their successors—to spread his kingdom. He was stocking their treasuries. These were gonna become his scribes who studied heaven’s kingdom, directly under heaven’s king.

Two of the gospels wanted to make it extra clear how Jesus stuck to parables for public consumption, but in case his students were dense, he’d spell things out for them privately.

Mark 4.33-34 KWL
33 Jesus was speaking the word to them in many such parables—
as much as they were able to hear.
34 He told them nothing without a parable.
On his own, to his own students, Jesus explained everything.
Matthew 13.34-35 KWL
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables.
He told them nothing without a parable.
35 Thus he could fulfill the prophet Asaph’s word, which said “I’ll open my mouth in parables.
I’ll declare what was hidden from earth’s foundation.” Ps 78.2

I should start with the Asaph quote. That’s in the psalms. The first line comes from the Septuagint’s version of Psalm 78 (listed there as 77); the second line is more like Matthew’s translation of the Hebrew. I decided to translate from the Hebrew:

Psalm 78.1-2 KWL
1 People, hear my law. Stretch out your ears to my mouth speaking,
2 for I open wide in parables and ancient riddles.

If you wanna stretch the definition of minný-qedém/“from the first,” which I translated “ancient,” I suppose you could turn it into “from earth’s foundation” and get away with it. Thus Matthew does.

For the outsiders, who largely had their minds made up about God and Messiah and who they figured Jesus was, they weren’t at all interested in clearing the junk out of their spiritual treasuries. Far as they were concerned, they were good. Know-it-all Christians still think this way. You can’t tell ’em any different, for they “need not that any man teach” them. 1Jn 2.27 KJV They know what Jesus’s parables mean; they understand ancient wisdom. They especially don’t need us to tell ’em to double-check what they think they know, for they’re right, and righteous, and self-doubt is for losers.

This absence of humility is gonna make lousy students out of them, but they don’t care to be students. They imagine themselves teachers. Paying lip service to the idea Jesus is their teacher… or not, in the case of those pagans who figure they know better than Jesus and “organized religion.”

But Jesus’s students, then and now, realize our master is right, and we are not. We’re not gonna grow unless we continually let the Holy Spirit straighten us out. Our treasures must only consist of what he considers valuable, and nothing else. A life of humility will always involve house-cleaning. So bust out the Pine-Sol.