Matthew 7:24 “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.”
The message in this parable from the Sermon on the Mount is quite clear. The first man builds a house on a rock. The second man builds his house on the sand, and the coming flood proves the wisdom of the first and the folly of the second. The moral of the story is this: Base your life on Jesus’ teaching, and your faith-house won’t get washed away.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to have a builder certify your home’s foundation than it is to follow Jesus’ advice. Some of Jesus’ words are clear and just very hard to put into practice. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44) for starters. But Jesus is also notoriously unclear in many places, as the miles-long trail of conflicting commentaries on his words would indicate. Some decide to take his words literally. But consider this: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” (Mark 9:47) “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yea even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) And that’s before you get into murky parables that praise corrupt managers and boot wedding guests who aren’t dressed properly even though you just pulled them in off the street. Literalism is a “sand” choice. Been there, done that. My house still fell.
I completely agree that “What would Jesus do?” is the correct question to ask. I just don’t believe that the question is so easily answered. I have tried my entire life to put Jesus’ words into practice, and it seems every time I answer the doorbell, it is the wrecking crew coming to take down my house again. And that doesn’t leave me too happy with the dualistic choice of “wise” or “foolish.” While I try to do due diligence in my life choices, whether I end up on rock or sand is often a crap shoot. Maybe God could see it coming, but I sure couldn’t, and I resent that guy on the rock sitting there gloating at me. So…I’ve added some guys to the parable.
The wise man builds on rock, the foolish man builds on sand, but I think there’s a third guy--the moron. The moron builds on sand, has his house washed away and builds again in the same place! And then there’s my favorite—the fourth man—the teachable man, who builds his house on the sand, has it washed away, learns from his mistake, and builds the next time on rock. With the addition of the moron and the teachable man to the metaphor, I have a much better shot at getting to that rock and earning the wisdom title.
These four possibilities were all lived out before our eyes over the past month as the Mississippi had its second 100-year flood in the span of 15 years. First we have the obvious comparison—those who built (individuals, businesses, and towns) in a flood zone and those who did not. Sand and rock. But the second set of builders was also in evidence. Of course we saw the reports of those who rebuilt in the same location after the flood in 1993 and once again had the mighty river conquer their efforts. But I was really struck by the news reports about Valmeyer, Illinois.
In the first round, they were sand builders and 1993 washed away their entire town. But they were not content to be labeled so simply by the metaphor. The whole town of Valmeyer decided that it was teachable, and the whole kit and caboodle picked up and moved two miles east and hundreds of feet up. They rebuilt the entire town on higher ground. The flood came again last month, again submerging their old town limits. But the new town stayed high and dry with not a single resident losing anything to the flood. The teachable man. It was hard-won, but the town of Valmeyer is now “wise.”
Of course you can keep adding people to the metaphor. The complete idiot who rebuilds on the sand time after time. The slow learner who finally gets to the rock after multiple sand castles. The latter was certainly the story of Jesus’ own disciples who had to be taught and re-taught so often that Jesus finally says to Peter in frustration, “Are you still so dull?” (Matt. 15:16).
That gives me hope. An initial choice might land me in either the wise or the foolish category, but I don’t have to just sit there like a lump. I can learn…maybe slowly, but if “dull” Peter can become the “rock” on which Jesus would build the church, then maybe this slow learner can do the same. Now to go remove some sand.
Help me learn, God. Teach me your wisdom, Rock of my salvation. Amen.
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