Psalms 118:1, 8-9, 19-21, 25-27
Matthew 7:21, 24-27
It’s one thing to see a images of a flood on television or in photographs or to read about such a catastrophe in a book or even a scripture passage as in today’s Gospel but it is another thing to actually be threatened by such an event.
When I was in the Philippines as a Tertian (the last formal year of Jesuit training before taking final vows) the group of us traveled to San Fernando la Union on the South China Sea. As luck would have it, Typhoon Zeb raged through the area during our stay there. We went and returned on a public bus. The trip up was beautiful: water buffalos, rice paddies and views of stunning mountains. The trip back was chaotic and tragic: flooded roads, devastated homes and chaos. Most frightful to me was when we had to cross a river that was swollen by the rains. The river looked like boiling chocolate and moved faster than clouds on a wind swept winter night. The water was also high, almost as high as the two lane roadway bridge we had to use to cross the river. As we headed across the bridge I looked around the bus and noticed that there were no emergency exits on the bus, and the windows could only be opened at the top, and at that, the escape hatch would only be about 8 inches high, hardly enough room for a “full figured” Jesuit like myself. When we got to the middle of the bridge the traffic stopped. We stood there for about ten minutes and then proceeded. We stopped again, and then proceeded. We finally made it across the bridge and continued on our way. I never knew if the bridge endured the rest of the flood.
In the scriptures today we hear about floods and winds, rock and sand, destruction and security. Neither reading, however, is a sacred version of “This Old House,” for in both, God uses the images of building and buildings, homes and cities, to make a spiritual point. Our foundation must be firmly set on the Lord. This must not only be an idea, however, it must be a lived reality. Jesus reminds us that the proclamation of rootedness is not sufficient (although I do recall praying “Lord, Lord” as we crossed that angry river) but that we must DO the word of God. That is our true foundation. So too in Isaiah, it is not enough to have a strong city with mighty walls and ramparts but the city must contain a just and faithful nation. Jesus reminds us that houses built on sand crumble and Isaiah ups the ante by pointing out that even lofty cities can be tumbled.
But our Christian journey is not an “either or” situation, rock or sand, mighty city or empty wasteland. As a pilgrim people the Church traverses both sand and rock, both fertile field and raging river. The question is not where are we standing but how are we rooted. All three readings today counsel us to be rooted in the Lord and to make our belief productive through acts of justice and fidelity.
This is the season of Advent, a time to look to our spiritual foundations both as individuals and as a Church. As a pilgrim people we face a paradox: our roots must be deep but our feet must be free. We can only accomplish this if we are rooted in the Lord and if our feet walk the path of justice. This holy time is the season of renewal as we await the birth of the Lord as well as Christ’s final coming. The Psalmist speaks of the “Gates of Justice” and pleads that they be opened. We both construct and open these gates through our own acts of justice, both mighty and simple. If the gates need repair or if we have to erect new gates in a different place now is the time to begin again that process.
When I was on that bus heading for Manila I had to have faith in the Lord, the driver, and whoever built that bridge. My safety depended on people doing things: the driver making a wise decision about whether or not to cross the bridge, those who built the bridge that they constructed it securely with sound materials. Ultimately I trusted in the Lord that I, my brother Jesuits, and the many people in the bus be protected as we crossed.
We made it!
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