Today’s Gospel reading is that marvelous set of comparisons that conclude the Sermon on the Mount:
Everyone who listens to 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 buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.
What amazes me about those images is that they are all about security. Yet the actions Jesus speaks of in the three chapters are all about living a life that the world considers the way to insecurity—being poor in spirit, being meek, getting persecuted for the sake of righteousness, not retaliating to hostility in kind, not storing up material goods, even loving enemies. Jesus dares to assure whoever is listening (which of course includes you and me today) that living this way is like building a house on solid rock. And whoever fails to live this way is . . . well, building on sand.
Jesus said the same thing, without the house-building image, when he said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Matt 16:25).
Somewhere Carl Jung observed that when a dream focuses on a house, the house is a symbol of your life. If you think about it, you’ll probably recall dreams about a house in which you feel quite lost, and, by God, you awoke to realize that the dream house pretty well reflected your life at that moment. Or maybe you dreamt of being in a house that was rather comfortable and well ordered, and upon waking you realize that that house was indeed an image of how you experienced your life.
Well, that meaning of the house symbol in dreams may well be what led Jesus to choose the house built on rock versus the house built on sand to drive his message home at the end of his inaugural address. For Jesus, his instructions about honesty, forgiveness, fidelity, nonviolence, love of enemies are not nearly impossible goals for some kind of elite holy ones. Those instructions are the only way to ultimate security and the only way to avoid making a disaster of the project of one’s life.
Jesus used the building-on-rock image in another way that I find most encouraging. Remember how he told Peter, “You are Petros (“Rock”), and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18). A few verses later, he called the Rock a stumbling stone. Yet, ultimately, even after the Rock’s cowardly denial, Jesus proved himself a Master Builder of the house of the church, even using the fragile rock that Peter was. So too, Jesus is the builder of the house of my life and your life if we cooperate by living the words of the Sermon on the Mount. In the paradox of grace, we find security by losing our lives.
This may underlie the maxim that Jesuit Volunteers use to describe the conversion experience they find by immersing themselves in service: “Ruined for life.”
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