(Originally posted on the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas Blog March 16, 2018)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
When a parable appears in more than one gospel text, it can be intended as a significant and important message for the followers of Christ. Jesus used parables as teaching tools for his Jewish followers who were trying to understand a new and somewhat confusing way of understanding who Jesus was and what it would mean to be a follower and disciple of Christ. That we have these two parables recorded by the evangelists in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke helps to clarify the parable’s meaning as conveyed through their distinct styles. The evangelists in both gospels write to give authority to Jesus early in his ministry, after he spent time in the desert and gathered his earliest disciples. Christ’s divine authority would be necessary for the followers to understand as they joined in ministry with Jesus and by doing so, entered unfamiliar territory peppered with unfettered criticism and even looming danger.
Matthew’s version of this parable appears in the text immediately following the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is teaching about the way of life necessary to be a follower of Christ. In that famous selection, the door is cracked and a peek at Jesus’s authority of God is visible with close study. The parable shapes a brief yet powerful image of God’s will for God’s people, embedding into that imagery the authoritative nature of God and therefore of Jesus Christ. And once you can know Christ, then you are compelled to follow Christ. This would have been an unveiling of a newer view of who Jesus was as holding the authority of God, and happened when he was still quite early in his ministry. That authority is strong like a rock, not a shifting or uneven or fleeting authority and it will be on that rock that the church itself will be built. And Jesus makes clear that hearing and following any other authority than that of Christ’s is foolish indeed.
Luke’s rendition of this parable is absent any indicator of who is wise and who is foolish, and adds to Matthew’s reference to building on rock by hearing and following Christ. This evangelist chooses to include the meaning of rock as the foundation for building one’s house, a concept that would have been foreign to those living in ancient Palestine where building any building on solid footing would have been a challenge. This is significant to note, because what Jesus was teaching was quite different than what these believers were accustomed to hearing, and imagery like this would have been more impactful to them then it might be to modern day home dwellers who understand that building a strong house on a strong foundation is a given. The Greek understanding of this usage of foundation is that it is something that is physically laid down. Luke’s addition of this description is helpful in understanding that there is a physical response to hearing Christ’s words and then acting upon them, and in doing so, making your faith stronger and shoring oneself up against the storms of a raging river that each of us is bound to encounter in our life’s journey.
“If I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first.”
– Marion Cran, If I Were Beginning Again
The wise words above from Marion Cran come out of years of tending her garden and the wisdom she gained and shared in her role as the first gardening radio broadcaster in Great Britain. Cran spent her life doing important work for the British government in the early 20th century, and it would not be a stretch to think that this quote from her love of gardening influenced her work beyond just biological soil. For us who read this parables, Cran’s quote is helpful to understand the fundamental teaching of these two parables. Allying oneself to the soil is another way to imagine hearing the teaching of Jesus Christ and then inhabiting that teaching ourselves, putting those teachings first and foremost in our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. It’s impossible to go wrong when we adhere to Christ’s teachings. No river or rains, no floods or winds, cannot be overcome by the power of Christ Jesus.