In the Gospel today, Jesus exhorts both the crowd and his disciples to live a life of faith that is “founded on rock.” The analogy that Jesus gives us is to build the foundation of one’s house upon the solid rock which lays far beneath the softer levels of sandstone above it. Jesus is telling us that so much of what we believe holds up and maintains our lives and our societies, are in fact nothing more than shifting sands, that we must dig past, deeper, and deeper, until we reach the solid core of God’s deep love for us; the true source of salvation, of unity, and of life everlasting. This is the rock upon which Jesus calls us to trust in, to build our life of faith on.
Faith, is anything but easy. In this world that has fallen so far from God’s original plan of peace, generosity, and unity – where the innocent suffer exploitation and oppression, where war, violence, and abject cruelty are the lived experiences of the majority of God’s children – it’s easy to lose hope. When we feel our faith lacking, when we feel that we can’t trust in Jesus’ promise of liberation for the oppressed, when we feel hopelessness as we look at the state of the world, we must keep digging. When we read the newspaper, and our senses tell us, surely God is not here, we must maintain our faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ. If we fall prey to hopelessness, how can He use us to build up His kingdom which is to come? He needs us to fulfill His earthly mission; to continue His work.
We have been ushered into the season of Advent with the customary apocalyptic readings. Gazing not at Christ’s first coming in our midst but straining toward the horizon for his second coming we enter into this season of preparation. But, Advent preparation is not just about planning a party towards the end of December. The expectant waiting and preparation of Advent is time to do the soul’s work of conditioning for ultimate things, because eternity is on the horizon.
Jesus occasionally entered into a mode of teaching that, unlike other uplifting passages, embodies a foreboding sense of coming trial. Indeed, we have such a reading today. Jesus points to a day when there will be an accounting; when the souls of humankind will be laid bare and truth will be made known.
If I let myself actually hear Jesus, I tremble. I know that God’s mercy and grace are aboundingly sufficient and I know that there are some things, some ways of being, some little pet sins of mine that simply cannot endure in the Kingdom of God. But I know how much I depend on them when I try to let them go.
In the Holy Land, there is much solid rock, whether exposed, under a couple inches or under ten or more feet of soil. To build, one digs down however far it takes to use the foundation of solid rock. People build in the summer when it is dry not raining, yet it is hot. It is very hard work to break through the clay and dig down to solid rock. One may be tempted to skip the harder part, yet a sure foundation is essential to survive the winter floods.[i]
Jesus said, “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.” Hearing and doing Jesus’ words take great effort, like digging down through hard clay under hot sun. This parable ends Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in Luke and another version ends the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.[ii] Jesus ends with a call for necessary, risky, costly action.
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.