Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: The House upon Rock

Matthew 7:24-27:

[24] Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. 

[26] And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, [27] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

There are three parts to the Sermon on the Mount, found in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The passage above is how Jesus ends the sermon. So, that's the context we're in when Jesus says "Every one therefore that heareth these my words..." These words that Jesus is referring to are His whole teaching on the Mount.

If you asked me to summarize the three parts of Jesus' Sermon, I'd probably put it this way: the first part pertains to right action, the second part pertains to right relationship, and the third part pertains to right judgement. Roughly speaking, these three parts correspond to the three spiritual faculties of will (action), heart (relationship), and intellect (judgement). In the first part, Jesus speaks about those actions which make us holy, blessed (the beatitudes), and which we ought to do for our own good, and for the good of others. In the second part, Jesus teaches us how to pray, how to fast, how to properly relate to God. In the third part, Jesus teaches us right judgement, how to exercise our intellectual faculty for good.

And at the end, He tells us that not all those who cry "Lord, Lord" will enter heaven. Why? To some, He will say, "I never knew you: depart from me." The answer is in the passage above, that we must both hear His words and do them. We must fast and pray, we must exercise right judgement, we must keep the commandments, and exercise the beatitudes; we must pursue God.

He who does these things will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock, and he who does not will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. Both men will be subject to the same calamities--rains, floods, blowing winds--but the house that is built on rock will remain standing, and the one on sand will fall.

What's Jesus really getting at here? Well, it's very interesting because the Jews had an old image of the Lord God as a rock of refuge and strength. Consider Psalm 17:2-3 (in some Bibles this is Psalm 18:2):

[2] I will love thee, O Lord, my strength: [3] The Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer. My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust. My protector and the horn of my salvation, and my support.

This word firmament is often translated as rock. Here, the Lord is the rock, the place of refuge. Also, consider Isaiah 22:20-25:

[20] And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliacim the son of Helcias, 

[21] And I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. [22] And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. [23] And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father. [24] And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, divers kinds of vessels, every little vessel, from the vessels of cups even to every instrument of music. [25] In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall the peg be removed, that was fastened in the sure place: and it shall be broken and shall fall: and that which hung thereon, shall perish, because the Lord hath spoken it.

Here, Eliacim is being delegated as, essentially, prime minister to the Kingdom of David. The Lord says He will "fasten him as a peg in a sure place." A sure place is variously translated as "a firm place", "a wall", "a steadfast place"... in other words, a rock. As long as he is fastened to the sure place, he will be a throne of glory, and when he is detached from that sure place, that throne will be broken and shall fall, and whatever was hung thereon will die.

God is that sure place. As long as Eliacim is Faithful, Israel will be glorified, and when he is unfaithful, the kingdom will fall. Jesus reminds us again of this reality later on in Matthew 16:16-19, when He appoints Peter as prime minister over His Kingdom using the same formulations:

[16] Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. [17] And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. [18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

We are shown a great mystery in Jesus' passage at the end of His Sermon on the Mount when He tells us that whoever hears His words and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The first part of this mystery is that by giving us this simile, Jesus is declaring equality with the Lord God of Israel. Yahweh is the rock and refuge of Israel. Jesus here declares His teachings to be foundational, a rock and refuge. This is affirmed in the way chapter 7 ends: [29] For he was teaching them as one having power, and not as the scribes and Pharisees. Indeed, throughout Jesus' sermon, He references certain commandments given by God, and gives a new commandment for each, essentially declaring He has the same authority as God.

The second part of this mystery is that there is a certain closeness between God, Himself, and the teachings, the doctrine, that He hands to us. While in the Old Testament, God is Himself the Rock of refuge and salvation, here Jesus' teachings, and obedience to them, are the Rock of refuge and salvation. We should not be lead to believe there is a change here, that somehow God has distanced Himself, leaving us to rely on His teachings only. Rather, we should come to realize that He and His Doctrine are inseparable. To hear and do what Jesus teaches us, is to enter into Him, into that which makes Him who He is. He declared Himself to be "the way, the truth, and the life". Thus, to enter into right action (the way), and to enter into right judgement (the truth), and to enter into right relationship (the life), is to enter into Him. This is why He declares of those who do not hear and do what He teaches and commands, "I never knew you."

The third part of this mystery is that He there is also a certain closeness between God and His Church, and in particular Peter (or the Petrine Office). In Matthew 16:18, Jesus identifies the Petrine Office as the Rock, giving that office the power to bind and loose (that is, the power to make and dissolve laws--not moral laws, but what we would call canonical laws, or laws of the Church).

Thus, the Rock of the wise man is threefold: God, Himself, is our rock of salvation, God's teachings, His Doctrines and Commandments, are our rock of salvation, God's Church, and in particular the teachings and laws of the Petrine Office, which are always consistent with Biblical and Traditional Church Doctrine, is our rock of salvation.

Therefore, let us built our house upon that firm foundation: God, His Law, and His Church.

God bless you, and thank you for reading!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Pearls Thrown Before Swine

Matthew 7:6:

[6] Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Continuing on with the same discourse, Jesus presents us with this bit of wisdom, "Give not that which is holy to dogs." Here, Jesus cautions us to be careful about sharing holy things to others. Why? Because they--the dogs and the swine--may trample it underfoot, and then turn on you.

Remember that Jesus has been discoursing about judgment. He begins by warning us not to condemn others, but to offer right judgement, because how we judge others will be how God judges us. Then, He continues by warning us that if we want to help others overcome their sins, we must first root out sins from our own lives. Now, He's warning us that, once we've cleaned out our eyes, to be careful about who we offer our help to. What help is that? That which is holy.

When we root out sins from our lives, we invite the Holy Spirit within. We become one with Jesus, who acts through us. Then, when we have received this, His holiness, into ourselves, we are called to pass it on, to share it with others. Then, we are now ready to help our brothers cast out the specks from their eyes.

However, we must now exercise right judgement. We cannot offer this holiness, we cannot offer Jesus and His Holy Spirit to everyone. Why? Because not everyone will treat with the right reverence and respect that gift which you offer to them. Jesus calls such people dogs and swine. Animals who will trample that which is holy underfoot. And since that holy gift which you offer is coming from you, because it is a gift which you first received, they will then turn against you and tear you down as well.

Jesus shows us this right judgement later in Matthew. He uses the same language and reminds us of this teaching.

Matthew 15:22-28:

"[22] And behold a woman of Canaan who came out of those coasts, crying out, said to him: Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David: my daughter is grieviously troubled by the devil. [23] Who answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us: [24] And he answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel. [25] But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me.

[26] Who answering, said: It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs. [27] But she said: Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters. [28] Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour."

It may seem cruel for Jesus to speak this way to the woman, calling her a dog. His language was not personally directed, however, as we can understand now that He was referencing and earlier teaching that He had given. The woman was a dog not because she personally was a dog, but because she was a Canaanite--a non-believer. It is to the non-believe, the one who is an historical enemy of the Faith that we must exercise caution when offering the holy gift we have received.

This does not mean, of course, that we should not share the Faith. Indeed we must! But we must exercise right judgement. Is the person open and receptive to that which we have to offer? The woman in the above passage was. She was humble, and worshiped Jesus, and accepted that she was not worthy of the gift He has to offer. It is this Faith that Jesus rewards.

Jesus knew she had this Faith. He's God, and is capable of reading the hearts of people, which He demonstrated repeatedly throughout His ministry. So, even though He knew her Faith, He still spoke to her in this way. Why? Among other important reasons, He did so to demonstrate how we must exercise this judgement. We must be careful who we offer the holy gift of Jesus and Faith to. If we discern that they will profane God and His grace and turn to harm His holy people, we must refrain from giving them the "bread of the children," in order to protect it. If, however, we discern that there is openness to that gift of God, then we should give it freely, and rejoice in their faith!

One final note. Jesus speaks about two kinds of people here: dogs and swine. I'll offer my interpretation of these two categories. In Jewish kosher laws, swine were considered unclean, and could not be eaten. They were, themselves, unholy creatures. Dogs were not considered as such. Thus, I discern two categories of people: 1) dogs--those who are not of the Faith, but are indifferent to it, and 2) swine--those who are not of the Faith, and who are actively against it, who promote that which is unholy and sacrilegious, and who wish to destroy the Faith. The dogs are those who would profane that which is holy by ignorant disrespect, and the swine are those who would deliberately trample that holy thing into the ground, and then attack those who are of the Faith.

We must be discerning about who we share our Faith with. Share it, but make sure it will be received with due respect.

God bless, and thank you for reading!