I said on February 2nd that I would like to spend six weeks reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount. This is in fact the 8th week. So it took a little longer to get there than I thought. Of course even though this "sermon" is only three chapters of The Gospel of Matthew, those three chapters have had an enormous impact of the development of the Christian tradition. I think we have seen that they are not the easiest three chapters in the Bible. It takes some serious reflection to understand what is central to these sayings and more than that, it takes a great deal to actually live by them.
The Sayings of Jesus
Before we consider the final parable among these sayings of Jesus, lets take a brief look at the journey we have travelled over the last couple of months. The "sermon" begins on a mountainside which gives these sayings a narrative context.
Quite a list and, as I have mentioned, an incredibly wide sweep of all that has shaped Christian community and the Christian faith over two thousand years.
The Wise and Foolish Builders
It seems perhaps that the "sermon"- the sayings - has, for the last two months, been moving toward this parable. The final verse of Chapter Seven states, When Jesus had finished saying these things ..In one sense this complex and powerful ethic of the Christian faith will finish with a simple story that gives advice on building codes:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
And that is the point: all that has gone before is the foundation on which this emerging faith community is to be built. The parable, like all parables, pushes the things of everyday life into the service of a greater good. To end with an image of the ground on which we build our lives and our faith is so important.
The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
This final story recognizes that we all need a foundation and a "groundedness" to our life and faith. The metaphor has been used in many ways. The wind blows against the house; the rain pours down; the rivers rise and what we have built in life is in danger of collapsing.
I wrote in Update this week about the two books I have reading by authors who are both blind. The first is titled Invisible, written by Hugues de Montalembert, and the second, which I have only read excerpts from, was written by another Frenchman who was blind: Jacques Lusseyran. I think reading these authors has given me a new appreciation of the "giftedness" many people who are blind have. For me and perhaps for many, the thought of losing ones sight is terrifying. Lusseyran helps us "see" that the foundation and grounding centre of our life is not out there but it is in fact in here. He writes:
The source of light is not in the outer world. We believe that it is, only because of a common delusion. The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves The problem with seeing the regular way is that sight naturally prefers outer appearances.
Thats the rock on which we build our lives. The inner commitment to the light that is emitted from the sayings we have just read. Then when the winds of life blow and the storms of life threaten and the rivers rise and the flood comes, we are sustained by an inner hope, an inner light and a conviction that we are standing on solid ground. Now, that confidence doesnt happen overnight. In fact, it takes the practice of daily living, which some may call discipleship, to shape and reshape our core being.
Often we may feel more like the man in the second part of this story. Remember, both builders used the same materials; it was only the foundation on which they built that was different.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
Now before anyone gets the chance to tell me. I do know that a builder will say today that it is preferable to build a house on the sand because with the introduction of concrete sand becomes more stable than rock. And rock is often subject to more movement within the soil. But this of course is an illustration from the ancient world (no concrete then) and it employs this metaphor as a way of drawing us into a truth about life and particularly the significance of practising or doing the words that Jesus has spoken and not just believing them.
Perhaps the most important thing we can take from this Sermon on the Mount, these sayings of Jesus, is that being a follower of Jesus is about a "practice" and about "doing." Those who hear these words of mine and put them into practice Maybe that is why this sermon is often put into the too-hard basket and pushed to some ethereal age sometime in the future, rather than us living "into" the words and then "acting out" from them. Often they have been ignored or just encoded within a belief system. What was it that the essayist and journalist G.K Chesterton said? Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
And so we end this journey through the sayings of Jesus, The Sermon on the Mount, with the final words of the author of Matthews gospel:
The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught with authority, and not in the way the teachers of the law taught.