Saturday, May 21, 2011

Location, location

Everyone who hears my words and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. The rains came and the wind blew and it did not fall. But he who hears my words and does not act on them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rains came and the wind blew and it fell with a crash. --Matthew 7: 24-28

Nobody wants their house to fall down around them, so Jesus, as He drew His Sermon on the Mount to a close, said essentially 'Build it on me.' He'd already been talking to them for a good long time and these were the last recorded words He said that day. Their position as final thoughts makes them important as a summary, but also begs the question as to exactly what they summarize.

I learned a long time ago that I have to take Scripture as a whole--examining passages individually for their finer points, but looking at them in context to see their larger application. So, closeup first. Jesus is saying that only when we not only hear, but live by what He teaches will our lives stand the test that are sure to come. I like that. Nice and simple.

But what teachings does this example summarize? Let's see--the sermon starts in chapter 5 with the beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are they those who mourn...Blessed are the meek...Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...Blessed are the merciful...Blessed are the pure in heart...Blessed are those who are persecuted...

Jesus outlines the progression of His followers' lives, from understanding of sin, to mourning over it, to submission to His will, to a transformed life, and finally the privilege of suffering for Him. Then He moves on to say that His followers, the ones He just described in the beatitudes, are to be lights in the world, people who do more than just obey the written law. He expects those who say they love Him to go beyond what church leaders have both taught and exampled.

The next passages define what that extra effort looks like. Jesus expects His followers to go to lengths to make peace with enemies, to remain pure of heart, mind and body, to live in harmony and with commitment, to always tell the whole truth without hedging, to reach out to everyone with kindness and compassion, to be as perfectly human as He is perfectly God, to give generously, to pray with Him rather than the world in mind, and to fast only unto Him.

If we are able to do these things, we will also automatically do more. We will be storing up treasures in heaven and will live without succumbing to worry, not unduly judging others. He warns us that this will not be easy, that the this road is narrow and populated by wolves and robbers. Then comes the bit about the house on the rock.

You see what I mean? Jesus used the last image of the house because a house is where we put all our stuff and spend much of our time. We come home for refuge and for rest. In the whole first part of His sermon, He detailed what we should be storing in our cupboards and tucking under our bed. He wants us to hang generosity on the wall and light the candle of kindness. This house is not to be built with lip service. Every piece must come from the catalog He outlines beginning in chapter 5.

I once knew of a couple who spent every spare penny buying a house that they couldn't afford to paint once they moved in. That cannot happen with the house of our lives. Jesus did not subscribe to the realtors' old saying, "Location, location, location." His house is not built from the outside, but from the inside.

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