In our first reading for today from Isaiah we can find some of the major themes of the Advent season. The first of these is a reward for patient waiting of the righteous nation that keeps faith in the victory of a strong city that will be set up like walls and bulwarks. Next is the hope for peace for those of steadfast mind, who trust in God who is our steadfast rock. Finally there is the promise that the haughty and proud, that is those who are the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city, will be laid low to the ground and cast into the dust, trampled under the feet of the poor, by the steps of the needy. (Cf. Isa. 26:1-26)
These themes from Isaiah, or ones like them, were picked up by Jesus in The Sermon on the Mount, when Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel that Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21) On reflection it seems clear that there are some who say that they prophesied in Jesus’ name, cast out demons in Jesus’ name, or did deeds of power in his name that did so without it being done as the will of God, the Father. (Cf. v.22) This can be seen as a warning to test that what we are doing is really in accordance with the will of God the Father.
This leads right into the parable of the house built on rock and the house built on sand. (v.24-27). If we consider this parable carefully it can be counted alongside of other well known and remembered parables of Jesus. The key words here are hearing Jesus’ words about doing the will of our Father in heaven and acting on what we understand that to mean.
As we look through the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and reflected in the writings of the Apostles, there are several words that stand out as measuring rods concerning the will of God. Among the first that occur to me are truth, justice, and righteousness. These words carry the meaning of measuring up to a certain standard. They usually have a nuance of that which is absolute. But when we look at how Paul understood these words, in the letter to the Ephesians we can find Paul’s emphatic words, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph. 4:15) Truth can be hurtful if spoken without a real concern for the person, or persons, to whom it is addressed. Justice also needs to be tempered by mercy, and righteousness needs to avoid becoming “self-righteousness”.
Paul’s word, “Speaking the truth in love” leads us to Jesus’ teachings about love.
Two additional words that we can use as measuring rods are faith and trust. They both occurred in our reading from Isaiah. “Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.” (Isa. 26:2) “Trust in the Lord forever, for in the lord God you have an everlasting rock.” (Ibid. v. 4) The most generally accepted interpretation of Jesus’ reply to Peter acknowledging him as Messiah is that it was to Peter’s faith as a steadfast rock that Jesus referred. (Mt. 16:18)
The last two words in my list for understanding the will of God are peace and love.
In the Isaiah passage we heard words addressed to God, “Those of a steadfast mind you keep in peace—in peace because they trust in you.” (Isa. 26:3)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mt. 5:9) At the Last Supper Jesus said to the Apostles, I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.” (Jn 16:33) The first word with which Jesus addressed his apostles after his resurrection was, “Peace be with you.” (Lk. 24:36; Jn 20:19, 21 & 26)
To answer some who questioned Jesus, he took what we know as the summary of the Law from the O.T., words well known to all Jews, “…Love God with all your heart … and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk. 12:30-31) Later, at the Last Supper Jesus gave his apostles a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them (Cf. Jn 15:12) If we try to follow Jesus’ teachings in the light of these key words; Truth, justice and righteousness, along with mercy as a modifier, Faith and Trust, and Peace and Love, and take them seriously, we should be able to learn how to do the will of God. As it has been for many before us, this will be the rock on which we build our house.
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