Friday, May 14, 2010

Build your house upon the rock

"Many will say to me in the day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!'

"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

- Matthew 7:22-27

Today we return to the readings that continue from those of last week, from Saturday - see The narrow gate. This week we been through readings for Ascension Day, which was yesterday (see The Great Commission and the readings of Monday through Wednesday, Why do you speak to them in parables?, Therefore hear the parable of the sower, and Whose Son is He?). In today's reading, Jesus is continuing his conclusion from the Sermon on the Mount (see readings and commentary from Monday, April 26th through Saturday, May 8th, 2010 -- beginning with The Beatitudes and ending with The Narrow Gate).

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me in the day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?' " My study bible has a note that applies to the first verse of today's reading, as well as the verse before, which I've included here. It reads, "Here is a threefold testimony to the deity of Christ: (1) He calls himself Lord -- Yahweh of the Old Testament; (2) He speaks of the will of my Father, which he fully knows and shares; (3) verse 22 reveals Christ as judge and therefore God, for only God can execute judgment. In that day (v. 22) refers to the final judgment." So, at this conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is finally teaching us about judgment - and the importance of what he has taught in the sermon. How deeply are we capable of building up our understanding of his teachings, and incorporating them into our lives? We must consider what we can do, and how we can grow toward the image he gives us throughout this sermon of perfection ("Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" - see An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth). Clearly, here, even the great gifts of prophesy, casting out demons, and performing "wonders" do not add up to anything without the adherence to these teachings on love in action.

"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock." What does it mean to be a wise man? To build our house on a rock? On the rock, as Jesus' words say? The rain descending, the floods coming, the winds that blow and beat on the house - all of these are the tribulations of life, the difficulties and challenges that we face, which are constant, and which cause us to question who we are and the wisdom of our choices. The challenges of life also ask us to go beyond what we're prepared for, what we already know and understand - and therefore deeply into the territory of faith. To build our home upon the rock is suggestive of something else we understand from the gospel: the Church. Later on in the gospel of Matthew we will read of Peter's confession of faith (and hence, the meaning of his name, given by Christ, which means "rock" in Greek) - see Matthew 13-20. As in the previous verses, when Jesus declares himself Lord, and reveals his divinity, the confession of Peter that Jesus is Christ is the rock upon which we build our faith. As Christ is "the Word," the gospel is called "the living word" - and the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are "these sayings of mine" that Jesus refers to here as the rock upon which we may build our home as "wise men." To do so, therefore, is to build our secure homes, within our hearts, upon a foundation that is real, that will not pass away, something of true substance - worthy of our faith, our trust, our hearts, our treasure.

"But everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall." I think it's interesting that Jesus notes here that those who hear and pay no attention - who ignore what they have heard - are the foolish. They are choosing, instead, to build their homes on something insubstantial, that shifts with every wind, washes away in the flood, does not hold in the rain. What Jesus offers us is something of substance, of the true nature of spiritual reality. Ideas come and go as does fashion for how we should live our lives, what new thing or teaching we should follow. But what he teaches is the foundation of a rock, the rock, something stable and timeless - based on love and justice and mercy, the very reality and substance of God.

I also think that what Jesus teaches here illustrates the power of the word on another level that is something reflected frequently in the gospels: to be ignorant of it is one thing, but to hear and to choose to ignore it is another, that carries strong consequences: "And great was its fall." Just as the words here follow Jesus' teaching about judgment, so we must understand it in that context - that a spiritual truth revealed to us confers a responsibility. The presence and action of Spirit confers responsibility on its witnesses. Our choices in terms of how we respond carry great weight and consequence. Jesus will repeat this again with more emphasis when he teaches his disciples about why he speaks in parables, when he quotes the words of Isaiah: "And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them." (See Why do you speak to them in parables? ) Our choices - when presented with spiritual truth - really do count. But, we remember, we always have the choice to start where we are, and grow in our understanding, no matter what has happened in our lives up this point. Our religion is one of a lifelong transformation - not a static existence nor a single choice, but a continuum of choices at every moment, and one of redemption and mercy and love. We can take this challenge to build our home upon the rock at any time. That is the promise that is made here.

So, we review the teachings in the Sermon: we are to practice love in action. We find our Father in the secret place. And we look for the wisdom in the teachings we follow in life, in the things we take seriously and to which we pay attention. There is a certainty in spiritual reality - in the timelessness of the teachings of love and mercy, and living in righteousness and justice - and the teachings that tell us about the heart and our inner lives, and not to live merely for outward purpose and image, as do "hypocrites" or "actors." That is our rock. We start with the secret place, and with the teachings of love, with the Beatitudes that tell us of a heavenly reality and the substance of treasures that neither moth nor rust can destroy, and thieves cannot break in and steal. How will we go forward upon that rock - the one that shelters us well in the storm?