by Rick Campanelli
Matt. 13:51-52 "Have you understood all these things?" They said to him, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
The next time someone makes a lawyer joke, tell them that lawyers are the only people in the Bible who Jesus gave their own parable.
In Matthew 13, we find many wonderful parables intended for all of us. Parables about seeds in good and bad soil, about the coming separation of wheat from the weeds and good fish from bad, about tiny mustard seeds that grow into the great tree that shelters many, about leaven that transforms, about giving up everything gladly to find the hidden treasure or the pearl of great price. At the end, Jesus asks the disciples, "Have you understood all these things?" They answer, apparently with straight faces, "Yes."
Well, maybe. Jesus, at least, thinks they and we need another parable. Oddly, unlike any other parable, He applies this one to a particular profession – scribes; and more specifically, scribes "trained for the kingdom."
We think of scribes as the lawyers of their day. Like modern-day lawyers, their authority and responsibility arose from their knowledge and skilled use of words of power, which in Israel were words of both faith and law. Jesus knew, of course, that soon He would be entrusting these disciples and their successors with an awesome privilege and responsibility – disseminating these parables and the whole gospel to all the world and to all generations until He returns. In that sense they would certainly serve in the role of scribes – entrusted by the Lord with the most important words ever spoken. So perhaps it is not surprising that in response to the disciples quick "yes, we got that," Jesus felt that they, and we who claim to be in "training for the kingdom," could do with another parable.
Jesus says a scribe trained for the kingdom is like "a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new, and what is old." So at the outset we see a scribe is like a master, that is, a scribe has authority over others. How should he or she use this authority?
Scribes "trained for the kingdom" embrace the role, privilege and discipline of learning to use their authority as servants to their King. They view and dedicate their treasure – which for scribes is the words that are their stock and trade – to their King. Earlier in the gospel, Matthew tells us of a Roman centurion whom Jesus commends because the centurion understood that he is only a steward of the authority he has been given: "For I too am a man under authority…"(Matt. 8.9). The good scribe is always cognizant that he holds and uses his authority in the service of his King.
And what about the treasure? Jesus says the master "brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." The master, as well as the good scribe, doesn't hoard it for himself or even hide it away to protect it. With discernment and understanding, the master "brings it out" for use in the kingdom. Saint Paul helps us understand this, when he says about the privilege of service to the King, "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Amazing, isn't it?
So good scribes submit and steward their authority and their treasure – their knowledge and skill with words, and the influence it brings them – to the King. They do not hoard this treasure for their own purposes or hide it out of self-protection or fear. They "bring it out." And it’s a good thing they do, because they have the privilege and responsibility of the amazing, undeserved commission to be the King's ambassadors, for a world that is in desperate need of Him.
If we are lawyers, our stewardship lies in the practice of law. Whatever our roles – teachers or parents, leaders or co-workers, counselors or friends, or in many or all of these roles from time to time – we are entrusted with this treasure of influence and words. Let us modern day scribes humbly and confidently ask the Lord for discernment and faithfulness in using our skills and our treasure for His glory.
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Rick Campanelli is teaching at the University of Virgiina Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He has extensive leadership experience in private law practice, industry, the nonprofit sector, and in government service at the U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services, Justice and State. He also seves on the CLS board of directors.