Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalm 118:19-24; Matthew 7:31-27
In Hebrew scripture, the authors of the Jewish Wisdom books frequently contrast two Ways – the way of good and the way of evil, or the way of meaning and the way of vanity. A consistent theme ascribed to the way of holiness, integrity, and truth is its weight. This way has substance – it is heavy, solid, and stable. Those who follow this way have roots, as in Psalm 1: “They are like trees, planted by streams of water, with leaves that do not wither.” By contrast, the way of evil or vanity is light, ephemeral and insubstantial. Those who follow it become like chaff which the wind blows away, like dew or clouds that evaporate, like grass which withers in the sun, or like the web of a spider brushed casually aside.
Jesus’ parable of the two house-builders, which concludes the sermon on the mount in Matthew, participates in this tradition of the Two Ways with its stark opposites: the wise man and the foolish man, the immovable house built on rock and the flimsy house built on shifting sand. This is is a sobering reminder that authentic discipleship demands the concentrated weight of commitment expressed in actions. Accepting wise and prudent commitments is a practice that gives our life with God substance.
We might see the sermon on the mount as a discourse on how to build a house. Each disciple who listens is faced with the consequent responsibility of choosing a building site. God cherishes our ongoing, inner work of wise and careful discernment, and patiently waits while we survey the ground. But God also longs for us to act. At a certain point, we have to stop gathering information and building materials and simply lay a foundation stone. If we want to live in a solid house, we must commit our vision, our resources and our hope to Something greater than ourselves. The greater that Something is, the more lasting the foundation will be.
Most commitments worth making involve the voluntary acceptance of limitation for a greater purpose. In Jesus, the God of heaven and earth chose to express a radical commitment to us in accepting the limitation of a human birth and personhood. Any commitment we make to God as Christians, therefore, is not a commitment to an idea or a principle, but a Person, who is love and relationship incarnate. I find this reality most comforting when I consider the houses I continue to build on sand, even while the one founded on rock is actively under construction next door. Jesus is not waiting to say “I told you so” each time one of these little houses washes downstream, as indeed they are meant to. In the words of Julian of Norwich, Jesus looks at such falls “with pity, not with blame.” The warning about the greatness of the fallen house is stern in this passage, but I think it is because Jesus wants to see us properly housed. He wants our efforts to add up to something real and particular.
In Advent, you may choose to reflect on a commitment you are considering accepting, or a commitment that needs renewing. In seeking to build or continue building the house of your life on the rock of God’s committed love, you may discover that you are called to commit; that you cannot claim the Life that God desires for you without it. As you imagine your life taking on the shape of that commitment, what losses or limitations does it entail? What new realities of joy and meaning does it make possible? And most importantly, does it help or hinder you in making Jesus the foundation of your house?
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