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!

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