A passage in the book of Matthew really struck me recently. Specifically, Matthew 13:52. The context of the verse is Jesus’ speaking about the kingdom of heaven and how at the end of the age the righteous and wicked will be separated and the wicked thrown into hell. Then Jesus says, “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.”
As a Christian philosopher who is especially interested in ethics, I suppose I am—or at least aspire to be—something like a “teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven.” So when Jesus offers a simile related to this role, it catches my attention. What could he mean here by “new treasures as well as old”? One thing that comes to mind is scholarly insights, old and new. In teaching the history of philosophy, I constantly emphasize the treasures in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Locke, Edwards, Berkeley, Kant, etc. These are some of the towering intellects of Western thought, and their insights about the good life and, in many cases, the nature and purposes of God are considerable. As for new treasures, I think of contemporary Christian philosophers such as Robert and Marilyn Adams, Alvin Plantinga, Eleonore Stump, Peter van Inwagen, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, Linda Zagzebski, Robert Roberts, and Alexander Pruss. In recent decades, these scholars and so many others have provided us with “new treasures” related to the intellectual life and virtuous living.
We should remember that Jesus himself was a teacher in the kingdom of heaven, and of course he modeled perfectly the bringing out of new and old treasures. Whenever he taught, he drew from and applied the Old Testament scriptures but also made new innovations as a teacher, using unique parables (unlike anyone else in history), stunning hyperbole, creative metaphors, and other figurative devices for teaching theology and ethics. Indeed, his method was a balanced blend of new and old treasures, something that all Christian educators and scholars should strive to emulate.
The context before Mt. 13:52 is indeed (parables about) the kingdom of heaven, including teaching about the end of the age. In these parables, Jesus includes old things that earlier prophets taught; the main old thing is the future final judgment when bad or useless “plants” are thrown into the fire. John the Baptist warned about the coming wrath, which he expected to come (quickly) with this new kingdom of (and from) heaven. But Jesus uses parables (in Mt. 13) to primarily explain what is new, the “mysteries” of the kingdom. What is new is that this kingdom will involve many things before the end: Jesus’ new kingdom will spread as he (and his disciples, future teachers of the kingdom) sow the seed (the word of the kingdom) which will meet much resistance, silenced teachers, and distracted teachers, yet also teachers that multiply the seeds/words of Jesus; Jesus’ disciples will be “children” of the kingdom, who do not try to destroy all the evil “weeds” of the earth, but remain patiently gentle until the end; and Jesus’ kingdom of disciples will spread all over the earth, yet remain tiny, insignificant groups (like mustard seeds).