From the Mission Director - July 2021
Treasures New and Old
By Stephen Baxter
Tucked away near the end of Chapter 13 of Matthew's gospel is one of my favourite parables. Jesus had just begun using parables, and this change in teaching methods both surprised and puzzled the disciples. When asked for an explanation Jesus said he needed to be careful who heard what he said. The true nature and meaning of the Kingdom needed to remain hidden from some people.
After seven parables in succession, Jesus asked the disciples if they understood. When the replied, "Yes," Jesus responds with a one-sentence-long parable.
"Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old" (Matt 13:52).
It's a comment on his teaching of the Kingdom. Jesus explained how his teaching drew on the rich tradition of the Hebrews and the scriptures of the Hebrews, yet was also full of fresh, new insights that he brought.
EVERY TEACHER . . . brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old (Matthew 13:52)
His teaching on God's kingdom through the parables did not ignore or reject the past, rather he built upon them to explain how God rules in new and engaging ways.
And then . . .
To illustrate the point, Matthew explains what happened next. Having finished this teaching session in parables, Jesus journeyed to his hometown and taught in the synagogue. The people were astounded and wondered where all his wisdom and miraculous powers came from. "Isn't this the carpenter's son," they asked, "Isn't his mother's name Mary?". (Matt 13:53-56)
They were thinking of the old Jesus - the one who played with their children and worked with his father. They did not know this "new" Jesus. He was too much for them, and Matthew writes how "they took offence at him."
No wonder Jesus resorted to parables. What he taught was just too hard for some people. The final verse of the chapter notes the outcome: Jesus "did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." (Matt 13:58)
They thought they knew Jesus, but their familiarity was a stumbling block. Their inability or unwillingness to see it was an act of unbelief and they missed out. The "wisdom and miraculous powers" of Jesus promised them a new future but they were unable to receive it.
The Kingdom Comes
The heart of all Jesus taught was about the rule of God on earth. He taught his disciples to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). Then, as they prayed, Jesus demonstrated what it looked like. The "blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor" (Matt 11:5).
This was the kingdom coming and it made a profound difference. Every healing changed people's future in an instant. And not just for themselves, but for the whole community. A healed leper, once shunned by family and community alike, could no longer be treated as an outcast. Their life, and the life of the community, was changed forever, and everyone needed to adjust to the change. Sure, the old familiar ways of living were there, but something new was in the air. Every healing was a small social revolution. Life could never be the same.
Every healing changed people's future in an instant.
A Call to Believe
This is what I love about this small, seemingly insignificant parable. It encourages me as a disciple in the kingdom to appreciate how it is a fusion of both the old and new, of both the past and the future.
Everything Jesus did and taught was a call to believe in the possibility of a new and open future for both individuals, and their communities. He called us to trust that things can change, newness can come, and inexplicable gifts will be given. Yet, the people of his hometown took offence. They settled for the familiar and dismissed the new, fresh kingdom transformation Jesus was bringing. Their "lack of faith" meant they missed out.
Your Choice - to be like Him
At our May Assembly we introduced, and received, a new strategic plan. Its key strategies of Reengage, Reimagine and Realign are a call to our churches, and everyone in them, to exercise our faith in Jesus. It is an invitation to trust in God's goodness and power, and not be content with the familiar. God is not mute or impotent in the face of our current realities of decline, decay and death.
But do we believe it? Will we embrace the new things Jesus Christ is bringing into our world through his church? Like the people of Jesus' hometown, we have a choice.
Our lack of faith will limit what God does in and through us, but it does not limit God. Despite the "unbelief" of his hometown, Jesus was not deterred. He went on to fulfil all that God called of him despite their lack of faith.
May we be found faithful in life and ministry, just as he was.
Mission Leadership Director