1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 4-52
Jesus told his disciples,
“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.”
- Matthew 13:52
That’s one of my favorite Bible verses. It makes me want to be a scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven. In ancient times, a “scribe” was a person who could read and write- when those skills were not widespread as they are now. This verse also explains my overall fascination with the Bible and the history of our faith.
Matthew the Evangelist may have had his first career as a tax-collector, but he seems to identify himself as a kind of “scribe for Christ.” In Matthew 23, where we find Jesus in Jerusalem harshly criticizing the Pharisees and scribes who resisted his teachings, Matthew quotes Jesus prophecy to them, that God “will send you prophets, sages, and scribes” to convict them of their wrong. (Compare how Luke 11:49 quotes Jesus on the same subject: “I will send them prophets and apostles....”) Matthew’s gospel quotes the Old Testament Scriptures more heavily than the other gospels do. He must have been an avid reader of scrolls and page-books. And there are many other examples of Matthew’s interest in scribe-work as part of God’s plan.
Today’s scribe has many more media to use in recording and then bringing out the treasures of God, compared to the scribe of Matthew’s day. Matthew had papyrus reed paper, smoothed-out animal skins, and perhaps clay tablets to write on. He had feather-quill and reed pens and possibly a wooden stylus to make his mark.
Nowadays, in addition to many “print” media, we may record and bring forth messages through audio and photo and documents and video across the entire radio-frequency bandwidth, from sub-bass rumbling up through UHF and microwave transmissions and beyond. The internet continues to churn with new and newer opportunities to communicate. The World Wide Web “blogs” and “bulletin boards” of ten to twenty years ago now seem primitive in today’s universe of Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. We know a young man whose full-time job is helping libraries and museums retrieve the data that was “saved” in computers of the 1990s and before— as if it were some kind of ancient text dug up by archaeologists.
Our gospel lesson for this week transmits six brief parables that Jesus told his disciples (including the one about the scribe).
Over a period of almost two thousand years, many scribes have hand-copied these little stories and passed them along on papyrus and animal skins, eventually in the 1400s giving over to the printing press. In the 1800s came the photograph, telegram, telephone, and recorded sound. With 1900 came the beginnings of wireless transmission. In the 1930s and ’40s, mechanical and electronic computers emerged. Now they are micro-miniaturized and they are everywhere.
And now we “scribes” – people who can store away information and then bring it out again— have opportunities to transmit and receive Jesus’ messages in ways Matthew could only have seen in prophecy or imagination.
Jewish Matthew had a beard and more clothes...
and he disapproved of pictures! )
The overwhelming rush of modern information technology may upset us and confuse us at times. Reading Matthew’s gospel, we know that Jesus’ parables upset and confused his hearers two thousand years ago.
But the message in Jesus’ parables carries down to us, that God’s reign over our lives is a sheer miracle of grace. Like a tiny seed that grows a large plant, like yeast rising in dough, like a buried treasure, like a pearl of great value, like a net full of fish, like a scribe accessing old and new wisdom....
The unfolding of Your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
– Psalm 119:130