Lent, Day 35 — Two Houses

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Two Houses

Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise [person] who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed. (Matthew 7:24-27 CEB)

  • Sometimes Jesus ends his parables and teaching moments with “Let the person who has ears, hear” (11:15). We can read this phrase a couple of different ways. One way is, “This may not make sense to some of you, but those who have the ability (ears) will get it.” I’ve seen people do something similar on social media: “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but…”
  • The other way to understand “Let the person who has ears, hear” is this: “What I’ve just told you is significant. Anyone who has ears should Ignore it at your peril.” This is the way Jesus chooses to conclude the Sermon on the Mount. This teaching is not an elective: it is a required class.
  • Jesus was a builder by trade. The Greek word is tekton, which we often translate as carpenter. But wood is scarce in the Middle East, and most homes are built out of stone. The subtext may be, “Look, I know how to build houses—literally and figuratively.”
  • I think there are a couple of ways to read the parable of the two houses. The first way is individualistically: The storms of life happen to each of us, and how we weather those storms depends on how deeply we put the words of the Sermon on the Mount into practice. For example, religion-for-show will not get you through a crisis like a pandemic. Anger, greed, and worry will not sustain you in a crisis. The transformation of the heart that Jesus talks about is practical, not just abstract.
  • While I appreciate this common way of reading the parable, I think there is another way to understand it. I’ve said repeatedly that Jesus is speaking to the ekklesia, and he envisions the church as a community of prophets. I think the house, as a metaphor, makes more sense if we read it as being about a community. It’s literally a place where people live.
  • If your community is not built on a foundation of spiritual enlightenment, if it is built on religion-for-show, if people carry petty grudges, if they are anxious about the future, if they try to judge or psychoanalyze each other, your community will collapse when crisis hits. And crisis is inevitable.
  • Matthew’s original audience, hearing reference to the collapse of a building in a flood, might make a connection to the destruction of the Temple by the Roman authorities. If so, Jesus’s last words here would be heard as an indictment of institutional religion. I can’t hear these words without thinking of today’s schism in the United Methodist Church.
  • I’ve often been told that whatever you preach, you should end on a note of hope. “Leave people feeling better when they leave than when they came in. Otherwise they won’t come back.” Jesus does not follow that advice!

We’ve finished Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the crowd’s response. Then I’ll turn to reflect on the Sermon on the Mount as a whole during Holy Week, and how we see Jesus’s sayings reflected in his last days.

Holy Week prayer:
Foundation of our lives, help me build on nothing but you.