"Many will say to Me in that 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 has 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
We have been reading through the Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes, at the start of chapter 5. (See all subsequent readings for the full Sermon.) We are now in chapter 7, and today's reading is the final one in the Sermon on the Mount. On Saturday, we read that Jesus taught, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 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 that 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!'" Jesus has added an apocalyptic note to the Sermon on the Mount, and speaks of the day of Judgment. He indicates His own identity in the power of Judgment revealed here: that it is He who will judge. Even those who show great spiritual gifts will not necessarily be those who enter into His Kingdom: prophesying and casting out demons -- even performing wonders -- does not preclude the possibility of "practicing lawlessness." His emphasis in His teachings is on another kind of practice altogether.
"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who has 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." These sayings of Mine are the teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount. He has taught us about living the life of the Kingdom in the midst of the world, a kind of union that is typified in the words He taught in giving the Lord's Prayer as part of the Sermon: we pray to Our Father in heaven, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Once again, these words allude to Judgment. He is the rock, His words are the solid building on the strong foundation. In a sense, He's warning us all about the difficulties that will come in life, the struggles we encounter. He's not saying there will be none! Great was its fall indicates He's still speaking of Judgment.
The Sermon on the Mount is a masterpiece, and has always been considered so. Throughout our readings, we have encountered teachings found elsewhere in the Gospels. We know that Jesus taught many of the same things under different circumstances and in various contexts. But this Sermon is a great picture of living the life of the Kingdom even as we live in this world. With the Beatitudes, right from the beginning, we're given a picture of the blessedness of this life, the "happiness" that lives in us even as we dwell in the world and also carry the Kingdom with us. And right at the beginning, in the following reading, Jesus tells us that we (His followers who will hear these sayings of Mine, and do them) are the light of the world. They are those who will let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. The Lord's Prayer, praying as He teaches us to Our Father in heaven, is a picture of living the life of the Kingdom in this world, and praying for its fullness. His speaking of Judgment -- present with us even as we live our lives in the here and the now -- gives us an apocalyptic flavor in the Sermon, even in the midst of the present time. An Orthodox priest writes in a blog post of the true nature and meaning of "apocalyptic" (see Living the Apocalypse, by Fr. Stephen Freeman). In the Greek, "apocalypse" comes from a word that means to reveal things that are hidden, to uncover. And this is a hint of our lives as followers of Christ and recipients of the Spirit, those who pray to Our Father for our "supersubstantial" bread of the Kingdom, for the eternal day of the life of the Kingdom and the daily life we live in the world. We are held and contained in this place, and we carry it with us: the light shines in us, and we are the light, He declares. He who is the light of the world calls us the light of the world in this Sermon, and teaches us how to be that light, how to glorify our Father in heaven. In the practices of the ancient Church that remain with us in various forms and denominations, we can see this understanding reflected. For example, in the Churches of the "Eastern world" we see splendid robes for the celebration of the Eucharist, indicating the beauty of heaven here in our presence. We consider that we are co-celebrating with the angels in heaven even as we worship. We sing, "Heaven and earth are full of Your glory," reflecting the song of the Seraphim given to us by Isaiah the Prophet, and in the Revelation (Apocalypse) of John (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). Byzantium, with its beautiful architecture and splendid mosaics of the saints, the Lord, and the angels, gave us a picture of the beauty of heaven as it has been revealed (another term for "apocalypse") to us even here in this world -- even the great cloud of witnesses by which we are "surrounded" in the words of St. Paul. An ancient Easter practice remains in which the light of the Paschal candle is brought home to light a candle before icons. Nothing is separated; our lives are meant to intersect, just as the Incarnation intersected heaven and earth, the eternal and the temporal. In this final teaching in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, He tells us exactly how we live such a life: we hear "these sayings of Mine," and do them. At the Last Supper, He teaches, "If you love Me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). This Sermon is the great collection of His commandments we have, given in one public teaching. Let us re-read, and take them all into consideration. It is a picture of a blessed life, a prescription for the life of the Kingdom of heaven lived and borne into this world. In Colossians 3:3, St. Paul teaches that our "life is hidden with Christ in God." Jesus repeatedly tells us that there is nothing covered or hidden that will not be revealed, nothing secret that will not come to light. This is the life into which we are baptized, and which we live. He's also taught us that we must practice discernment. We would do well to remember that saints are not necessarily those who live "perfect" lives, as seems to be so often thought. Saints are those who, perfect or imperfect, bear witness to the Kingdom in the world, who have such faith in that life that everything else may be worth giving up for it -- a kind of redemption that changes the reality of the world. Jesus' Incarnation shows us the way; He is the first of all.