The Sermon of the Beatitudes (1886-96) by James Tissot from the series The Life of Christ, Brooklyn Museum

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builder

When people gathered around Jesus what did his listeners expect to hear? Just his presence must have been an extraordinary event to witness, yet fully ordinary at the same time. Who did the people expect to see? A prophet? God himself? For me, when I heard Jesus speak the Sermon on the Mount in my heart, it changed my life. It put the nail in my coffin. The old me died. I realized that God himself was speaking to me. I now realize that God was speaking to all of humanity.

The famous Sermon on the Mount (or what Luke called the Sermon on the Plain) must have both dumbfounded and aggravated his listeners. They would have left thinking: Did he really mean to love your enemies? Why did he emphasize praying in secret? Who would really give someone their other cheek to slap? What did he mean when he said, "Do not judge or you too will be judged"?

These must have been the questions that raced through their minds as Jesus finished his sermon with the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. Most Christians are familiar with it. Here's the version from Matthew.

“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 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. 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.”

Matthew 7:24-27

Jesus explains that we are to build our house on solid rock, not on sand. But what is it that we should build? Our faith, our life, our family, our career? And what is the solid rock?

Most Christians would agree that the rock we build on is Jesus Christ. However, there's more to it. Jesus says that "everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man."

We must put Jesus into practice. We must let him live through us. That's what the Holy Spirit is all about, Jesus working through us. What good would the rock we built on be to us if we didn't integrate our house into structural stability of the rock itself? It would be like building with straw on a rock foundation.

He explains further in the Matthew 25:37-40: "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

We must practice what He preached.

The whole reason that God promised "to never leave us or forsake us" is because when we practice his words in our lives, he is with us. He is in us. When others practice Jesus in their lives, Jesus is among us. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus makes it very clear: "And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

When we obey and do his teaching, he is with us. This present "age" is the time until heaven is restored on earth, the point when God is with us in full and sin and death can be seen no more.

In the Beatitudes, which kicks off the Sermon, we learn just who is capable of building their lives on Jesus, and it might not be who you expect. They are the poor in spirit, the downtrodden, the humble, the thirsty, the pure, the peacemakers and the persecuted. These people know they are sinners and know that they live in a sinful world. They are repentant sinners. For it is only those in that state of humanity who can approach Jesus. On the other hand, the "righteous" won't allow themselves to go near Jesus, so they can't build their lives on his truths. The people who are unable to build on the rock are outlined plainly in Luke's version of the sermon. They are the rich, the well-fed, the laugher, the proud and the exalted. They are already satisfied and have no need to build their house on Jesus' word, let alone practice his humbling behavior.

Not only are we to build our lives on Jesus, our rock, but we are also required to put his teachings into practice. For a list of the teachings, we should start with The Sermon on the Mount. It's really not a complex lesson. It's really just a simple lesson on how to love in the way that only God knows how.

Tags: parables, commentary