Would You Bring Only the Old or the New?

by Ben Cheng
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 3:5, 7:12

Romans 8:28-30

Matthew 13:44-52

Friends, this week we finish our remarkable reading from the 13th Chapter of Mathew's gospel, teaching four parables from the Lord. He describes the Kingdom of God is like a treasure, a pearl, a net, and I would like to reflect on the last parable that Jesus says, "Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old" (Mt 13:52). This is very instructive, richly illuminating, capable of turning around our expectations, and generating new meanings over time.

Every scribe, who has been trained in the law, who could write out and explain the law, was instructed in this new way of being, which is the kingdom of heaven. The teaching is now extended to the Church, to all of us, who have listened to the Word, the seeds that are planted deep into our hearts. We are like the head of a household, who brings from his storeroom, both the new and the old. Why should we do that? Because our prejudice should be in favor of God's kingdom, and therefore, we can use whatever works for the service of the kingdom. It is a great spiritual principle: When we take Christ’s kingdom as the base and the center of our life, then we have the freedom and spirit to move around, and to use whatever we need to work towards and foster the kingdom.

Have we ever fallen into any prejudices in favour of the new or the old? After Vatican II, there is a "liberal" prejudice, which is in favor of the new and against the old. Whatever is new is good, and whatever it was before the council, the Church should get rid of it. This has led to a lot of literal and figurative damages to the Church. Think of many of our churches' architecture, theology, liturgy, spirituality, Church practices, many of which are damaged by this opposition, a one-sided embrace of novelty. On the opposite side, a conservative prejudice against the new is also posting a danger. We may watch the damages created up and down in our Church history even today. The prejudice resists to what the new is called forth to, and how God is acting. If I am just prejudiced against the new and in favour of the old, I am not serving the kingdom of God.

Saint John XIII once remarked that "We are not here to guard a museum, but to tend a blooming garden full of life." The Church is not a museum, filled with statues and precious arts, under glass, with a single light shining on them, and never to be touched. It is the conservative prejudice that sees the Church primarily as a museum, including the doctrines, practices, and liturgical acts of the Church. The leadership of the Church is the curator of it, making sure that nothing in that museum is ever changed or disturbed. On the contrary, the Church should rather be a flourishing garden, led by the Holy Spirit who is alive, moving, and acting. The leadership of the Church should be a cultivator of this garden. More to it, anyone who is a gardener must know how much hard work, concentration, and tactical knowledge are required to be a successful gardener. If we want to cultivate a blooming garden of life, we better equip ourselves to understand the plants we are dealing with, the structure of those blooms and flowers, all the factors that will affect them both negatively and positively. We must have a very strong, clear, and detailed knowledge of the structure of that garden and those plants. This means that we must have high sensitivity to both the new and the old. We must be very familiar with the dynamic quality of the garden, and the factors that give it stability Likewise, someone who is firm in the kingdom of heaven can be eager, willing, and able to bring forth, both the old and the new. He wants that kingdom to flourish, and so he realizes that there must be a subtle blend of the old and the new, both the dynamic and static. So the scribes and us, who have learned the kingdom of heaven, are able to bring both those elements into the dynamic play of the Church.

Dear friends, when you find yourself sometimes caught in the debate between liberals and conservatives, think about this parable. Our focus on this kingdom of heaven allows us to have the freedom to bring from the storeroom both the old and the new. God bless you all.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including “Both the Old and the New”, and “A Treasure, A Pearl, A Net”. For more information, please visit WordOnFire.org.