Showing posts with label Ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ethics. Show all posts

Monday, September 3, 2018

Living Epistle (A poem for Wilma Sedlak)





As I write these things my Grandmother, Wilma, is dying. She has reached the point of no return. There is no hope in her being miraculously preserved to live a handful of more years in her mortal body. She has already lived past ninety years. Now she is hospitalized, and unresponsive, yet still alive as of right now. She will die.

I love Wilma. She radiated God's generosity, thoughtfulness, and loyal love. As the only Grandmother I ever knew (my birth mother's side being entirely unknown to me), proverbial Wisdom echoed in every room she resided, in every phone call, in every note and hand-written card. God's handwriting was written large through her life. A "Living Epistle" read by all, is an apt description of all memories I have of her.

I spoke with her last week on the phone. I'm so very glad I answered the phone that day. She lives very far away from me, but very soon she will be nearer than most Christians realize, being with Eternal Life, Who is much nearer than most realize. 

I am at peace with her impending death. Death actually isn't her end. It is for many of us, but certainly not hers. She will continue to live beyond the moment her frail, mortal body "gives up" its life. She will continue to live beyond mortal death because, in Christ, there is no mortality, no eternal death. There is only eternal life, because Christ is God, and only in God is life-eternal, and only through Jesus Christ our God has eternal death been defeated and eternal life secured. Outside of Christ, there is just this mortal life, and just this mortal death. I'm not the judge of those outside of Christ. I'm not even the judge of those inside of Christ. I'm merely expressing, with absolute certainty, that Wilma's life has testified, and continues witnessing to participation in Eternal Life, here and now, and not in eternal death. 

"In dying, you shall die" was the warning given to human life. In Jesus, the resurrected Christ, there is no more warning--only blessing--saying, "In dying, you shall be raised with Me to life."

So then, what else could I say, given my convictions about the life and death of my grandmother? 

Well, I actually have a poem I wrote recently, inspired by a Byzantine hymn that is sung regularly in the Eastern Church, that I'd like to share, too. Consider it a meditation on what I have noted above, and a pattern of thoughts woven through many of my convictions, hopes, and dreams, all keeping my thoughts in balance in the midst of life's real turmoils:



In dying you will die
Do good
You will die

Don't ask why
Do good
Don't ask why

Don't question who
Do good
Don't question who

There are no but's
Do good
There are no but's

Don't pretend to know better
Do good
Don't pretend to know better

Don't deflect
Don't ignore
Just do good

How, you ask? 

Imagine God
Becoming human
So that you can become divine

Participating
Sharing
Communing 

In the Divine Life
For ever
And ever

Who fashioned you 
Out of nothingness
With the work of His hands

Who honored you 
With the Divine Image 
The likeness of Unutterable Glory.

Whose loyal love cleanses you
Whose homeland of your heart’s desire 
Is bestowed on you







Saturday, August 18, 2018

Loving to Know






What does it take?
...
To reach the point of no return
To say, I can't anymore
I don't even want to anymore
I need You
I want You
For ever more than now
Don't fix things for me—Fix me
Fix all of me or none of me
In Your mercy exact justice
I trust Your judgment—I don't trust mine
I deserve it
What ever that is 

I'm more than a fool
Lost without You
Leading others astray from the Holy
Feet running swiftly toward the void
None of my paths are peace
I only know how to survive
And not very well
When You serve me justice I will need more 

That stream which I poisoned
How can it be purified?
I don't trust my passions
I don't trust in flesh anymore
I used You as my crutch 
I polluted wells
For fun or out of spite
You were elevator music to me
I never had to learn Your rhythm
You were just there in the background
For my listening pleasure
Or to annoy me
As evil as that sounds
It's true 

Now I don't want to live without You
Have mercy on me
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies
Heal my soul
For I have sinned against You
Give me life or give me death
I know what I deserve
Whatever You choose
Do so for the sake of Your name alone
My name isn't worthy
Uproot and plant anew
Kill and make alive

As You wish
Thy will be done
Not mine
I just want what You want
Happy is he that findeth
Happy is he that getteth
Happy is he that retaineth
Happy is he
...
What must I do now? 










Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sermon on the Mount: Sections C & C' (part 4)




In the last post of this series about the Sermon on the Mount we discussed the significance of a necessary change in the Law once “all has happened.” I also argued for a first century fulfillment of when all that happened. Now I want to focus our attention on Jesus’ statements about “the least of these commandments.” Matthew 5:17-20 records the following words of Jesus:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all has happened. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 


People often assume that “the least of these commandments” referred to the commandments of “the Law.” Moreoever, the “Law” allegedly referred to the first “five books of Moses” (although nowhere within the Bible itself does it claim that Moses wrote all five books, or even that the final canonical form we currently have were altogether penned by his hand, thereby forming “the Law” as evangelicals understand it today, but I digress.) Although contemporary claims about “the least of these commandments” referring to the least of Gods commandments within the first five books of Moses is not entirely impossible, it is certainly not a crystal clear connection either.  

Alternatively, the perspective I will be endorsing is that “the least of these commandments” was definitely a reference to the least of God’s commandments, but instead of those commands recorded in the first five books of Moses, Jesus was actually referring to his own words and teaching—that is to say, his own divine commandments to them, which would be considered trivial by many first century Israelites because of the “just-ness” endorsed by Pharisaical and scribal traditions.

I’m certainly not alone in this interpretation. The great St. Augustine also concurred, saying:
But whoever observes them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,’ is to be understood in this sense, namely, not according to the measure of those least commandments, but in accordance with those which I [Jesus] am about to proclaim. 

Pseudo-Chrysostom also shared the same train of thought:
Let us see what are the least of the commandments. Some people hold to one interpretation and others to another, but I think that the Lord clearly shows what they are when he pointedly says, ‘If someone relaxes one of the least of these commandments,” that is, ‘the ones that I am about to say.’

A handful of internal, contextual remarks suggest this to have been the intended meaning. First, neither the “Law” (Genesis—Deuteronomy) or the “Prophets” are merely a set of “commandments” to be obeyed. The Law contains commandments (almost all of which relate to the Tabernacle/Temple), but it mostly consists of stories about human experience & God’s interaction which ought to be trusted. Secondarily, within Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus never appeals to any commandment within Moses’ “Law” without also clarifying how He thinks that commandment ought to be interpreted ethically. Jesus says, “You have heard it said….But I say to you…”. Surely that was a tell-tale signal to his audience that his own words—independent of whatever traditions the people had learned about Moses’s Law—were to be received as authoritative commands. Otherwise Jesus would have simply quoted Moses’ Law and not commented or critiqued traditional interpretations at all! 

Another factor worth noting is that every explicit reference to obedience within Matthew’s Gospel has to do with what Jesus teaches authoritatively, and not merely what “the Law” of Moses recorded. Take, for example, the way Matthew frames the entire Sermon on the Mount, beginning in 4:23ff, in preparation for Jesus to ascend the mountain and give the law, surrounded by crowds, as the new and greater Moses figure:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

At the end of the Sermon, when Jesus descends the mountain surrounded by crowds (7:28-8:1), Matthew makes clear that Jesus’ words were authoritative: 
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.


The overall literary purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to portray Jesus as the new and greater Moses, the new and greater Lawgiver of Israel. But these are not the only times within Matthew’s Gospel that we find Jesus’ words and overall message as authoritative. Later on, within this same sermon, Jesus makes it very clear as to whose commands the people ought to obey in order to live:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (7:24–29)

Echoing Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus mentions the authority of his own words the people of Israel in the first century:
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:32-34)


This really shouldn’t be a disputed fact. St. Augustine wasn’t alone in believing that Jesus was referring to his own words. And I’m not alone in believing that “the least of these commandments” were the least of Jesus’ commandments either. A whole litany of references from the Gospels should be conclusive enough:
  Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like (Luke 6:47)
  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)
  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)
  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:47)
  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples (John 8:31)
  I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. (John 8:37)
  Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (John 8:43)
  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
  The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ (John 8:52)
  If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:47)
  The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:48)
  Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:24)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)
  Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:20)

If we go back to Jesus’ statement about filling full the Law and the Prophets, and we walk through the entirety of Matthew’s Gospel with that promise in mind, it seems that the goal of fulfilling “the Law and the Prophets” was to crown Jesus as the only human being in the cosmos, having ascended above all principalities and powers in the cosmos, with authority over all things. Therefore obedience to the voice of the Lord Jesus was to be the sine qua non of entrance into his heavenly Kingdom, as well as the means toward fulfilling all that was lacking under the Old Covenant.
Also, in light of what has been said already in this series, and contrary to all false accusations which would be thrown against 1st century Christians by their anti-Christian Jewish communities, it needs to be emphasized for the sake of abundant clarity that Jesus did not abolish “the Law” or “the first five books of Moses,” or even old testament “biblical commands.” As we will see in upcoming posts in this series, Jesus clearly upheld the Law. He even gave clarity to the Law in ways which the scribes and Pharisees did not, because their focus seemed to always be upon the letter of the Law and not the character of God throughout the Scriptures.
Understanding the character of God throughout the Scriptures is crucial to understanding the authority of Jesus. 
I realize that this might come across as a shock to many Christians today, but a thorough investigation of the Old Testament Scriptures teaches that throughout Israel’s history God actually did not behave rigorously (i.e. Pharisaically or “legalistically”) according to the letter of His own Law. Instead, we find God far more often to be extremely patient and long-suffering, kind and merciful, gracious and forgiving, and not always rendering swift and stern justice, as His own Law demands
Now you might be wondering, how does is this relevant to Matthew 5:17-20 at all? 
It’s relevant because we often end up confused about what “commands” Jesus does and does not require us to keep under the New Covenant. Some theories say that Jesus requires us to keep every jot and tittle of Moses’ Law, including the dietary laws. Other theories say that Jesus abolished the entirety of God’s commands to the people of Israel. But the reality is that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets! He came to fill them full—to reveal that patient, long-suffering, merciful, gracious, and perfectly just and appropriately wrathful God to Israel. Jesus came to put flesh and bones on the image of God Himself as revealed throughout the Scriptures. Christians often don’t see Jesus as wrathful or angry because we are not looking at the New Testament Scriptures in light of God’s Holy Law. And we often don’t see the God of the Old Testament as being patient, long-suffering, or merciful because we are not looking at the “Prophets” in light of God’s Law. 
It is precisely because the foundational Law of God has been “filled full” in Jesus’ ministry, that Jesus and his apostles tell the Church to build the rest of God’s Temple upon them, by obedience to the Law of God, which is also the Law of Christ. 
   For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just-ness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4) 
  For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled by you in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15) 
   This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
   …For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law, that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (I Corinthians 9)

By obeying the voice of the Lord Jesus and teaching others to do the same, the “righteousness” (i.e. their just-ness) of Jesus’ disciples would exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Only those who trusted and obeyed Jesus would enter the Kingdom of Heaven that was about to come. Those who trusted and obeyed the scribes and Pharisees would be cut off.


Jesus did come to bring about necessary changes of the Law—especially in light of the Temple’s soon coming destruction—but he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. All of the necessary changes were centered on life under the old creation, in which the temple in Jerusalem were central and essential. If Jesus had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, the temple in Jerusalem could no longer remain central. The Temple of His Body had to become central. 

The least of his commands had to be kept to definitively end the old covenant, and the least of his commandments still need to be kept in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.














Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sermon on the Mount: sections B & B' (part 3)






In the two previous posts (found here and here) we examined section “B” (5:3–10) of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which contained eight beatitudes, or, “Blessings.” In this post I want to discuss the connection between those eight blessings and the eight warnings which Matthew records in the closing section of Jesus’ Sermon. The eight warnings, as you may have noticed from the previous post linked above, are contained in section B’ (7:13—27), the literary section which corresponds with Section B.

I also realize that after a cursory glance through both of those sections it might not be obvious that section B’ (7:13—27) parallels section B (5:3–10). That is why I believe the best way to begin noticing the parallels is to simply point out that there are eight sections total in each. Just count how many pairs of concepts and phrases are there. There are eight distinctive statements which form section B as one literary unit,1 and there are eight in section B' as well.  

In the first few verses (7:13-14) Matthew records this section with two pairs of ideas: a gate that is wide with a way that is easy, versus a gate that is narrow and a way that is hard.
1) Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who will enter by it are many. 

2) For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Next, in verses 15 through 20, we find another pair of ideas: False prophets & wolves in sheep’s clothing will be recognized by their fruits,” and that is set in contrast with healthy trees which bear good fruit and are “recognized by their fruits.”
3) Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. 

4) Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad (σαπρὸν = “rotten”) fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Following that pair we find another pair (vv. 21-23): one group of people who say “Lord, Lord” enter into the kingdom because they do the will of Jesus’ Father, and another group of people who say “Lord, Lord” are cast out of the Lord’s presence because of their lawlessness. 
5) Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 

6) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Finally, we arrive at the fourth pair (vv. 24-27) in which we find one group who listens to the words of Jesus and does them, and another group who listens and does not do them. The former does not fall, whereas the latter most certainly does. 
7) Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 

8) And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.


In light of all this, I think it’s obvious that Matthew clearly recorded four pairs of warnings, or, eight warnings total in order to balance the eight “blessings” he listed at the beginning. But were are still left wondering what the connection is between them all.

In order to figure that out, I'm going to suggest that the same historical background to the eight beatitudes is also the background to these eight warnings. If you recall my earlier post, the Beatitudes each recall the Psalms in which beatitudes are often found, and each contain two common themes:
  1. Israel is to endure affliction because of their loyalty to YHWH
  2. Israel is promised future consolation and vindication from YHWH as a result of their loyalty to Him


We saw how that background applied to the beatitudes of this Sermon. Now let’s see how it applies to the warnings. 

In the first pair, Jesus warns his disciples that there was an easy “way” with a “wide gate” that led to destruction, and many Israelites among them would enter it to their own destruction. How would this description of a “gate” have illustrated an end-point of destruction? 

The most obvious theological connection with a “gate” is an entrance to a city, but throughout second-temple Judaism and even developing its way through first century Judaism, a “gate liturgy” was commonly understood for proper worship within the Jewish synagogue and temple because of it's explicit paradigm presented throughout the Torah.2 A few Bible commentaries even suggest that the “wide gate” might have been an allusion to the “Beautiful Gate” of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem, which was a very wide temple entrance in the first century. By comparison, the “narrow gate” would then be likened to a doorway of a Christian assembly of some kind, or possibly even a synagogue converted into a Christian place for worship. After all, synagogues throughout the second temple period were well known as entrances into the Temple courts.3

Historically speaking, Josephus records that hundreds of thousands of Jews entered the wide and “Beautiful Gate” of Jerusalem and died therein during the siege of Jerusalem between A.D. 66—70. Thousands of more Jews were captured during those wars and enslaved by the Roman government. It is possible, if not likely, that this “gate” language alluded to such destruction. But even more interesting is the connection with the difficult “way” of those who followed Jesus and the easy “way” which lead to the wide gate and their consequent destruction. We see this connection in the following pair.

In the second pair of warnings we find two very interesting comments in connection with Christ’s judgment upon Jerusalem. First, we find the “wolves” and “false prophets” likened unto trees which are recognized by their “rotten” (σαπρὸν) fruit.4 

If Jesus meant that these “false prophets” were false spokesmen of YHWH (i.e. “the LORD”), and that they would disguise themselves as disciples of Israel’s Messiah (i.e. Christ’s sheep), then this is the description of the anti-Christian Jewish authorities throughout Matthew’s Gospel (9:1-13;12:1-14, 22-32; 15:10-20; 16:1-12; 19:1-9; 22:15-22, 34-46). Indeed, it is the Pharisees and their “sons” who Jesus described as “evil trees” whose teaching produces “rotten fruit” (ch. 12):
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to [Jesus], and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, [Jesus] said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. …Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad (σαπρὸν = “rotten”) and its fruit bad (σαπρὸν = “rotten”), for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks… for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Pseudo-Chrysostom made an outstanding observation in his commentary of Matthew 7:15-20. He wrote: 
…these put on the guise of Christians, to the end they may tear in pieces the Christian with the wicked fangs of seduction. Concerning such the Apostle speaks, ‘I know that after my departure there will enter among you grievous wolves, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.’5

That passage quoted comes from Acts 20:29-30, and, interestingly, that was a letter which Paul wrote to the Presbyters of Ephesus

Why is that important, you might ask? 

Well, it was in Ephesus, in Acts 19, that we learn about a Jew named Apollos who “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Messiah was Jesus.”  And there, in Ephesus, we learn that Paul 
entered the synagogues and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:8-10)

Hopefully all of these dots are starting to connect. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was addressing Jews who were, at that time, undecided as to whether they would follow him or not. If they followed him, they were warned it would definitely be the “hard way,” not the “easy way” which would lead them all to destruction.  Throughout the book of the Acts of the Apostles we find a similar path, but the chief enemy of the Christians were Jewish authorities. There we saw that the Christ-following Jews were labeled as those who follow “the Way”, but that didn't stop the loyal disciples of anti-Christian Judaism in Ephesus from speaking evil about them, and even plotting evil toward them. Paul even wrote back to the Presbyters later on in Acts and described those same disciples of Judaism as “grievous wolves” entering “the flock” and not sparing them. What this picture illustrates is simple: the New Testament shows us who the enemies of Christ and his sheep were, and they were Jews who remained loyal to the idolatrous and scandalous Judaism of the first century. The "followers" of Jesus on the Mount would either become loyal disciples to the “rotten trees” of anti-Christian Judaism, thereby producing the rotten fruit which Jesus condemned in Matthew chapter twelve, or they would follow Jesus and remain his loyal disciples through "the hard way" that leads to life.

With the next pair of warnings, the message is pretty simple. It describes many people within Israel who would not actually do the will of Jesus’ Father, and therefore would not inherit the Kingdom of God. They were false sons of God characterized by “lawlessness,” not obeying the words of their Messiah, Jesus Christ, or his apostles. 

Finally, in the last pair of warnings, we find an illustration of those who chose to build their houses on sand, and another of those who built on the rock. Unfortunately, because Sunday School rhymes have influenced our reception of this story, it is often assumed by Christians today that Jesus’ purpose was to teach that fools build houses on sand and wise men build houses on rocks, and since Jesus is “the rock” of our salvation all men would be wise to build their house on the Lord Jesus Christ.6

Although that is a true statement all by itself, that is probably not what was originally envisioned. What most Christians today don’t realize is how dehistoricized and far-removed from first century reality such interpretations are. Sometimes I also can't help but wonder if the answers are more obvious than we would like them to be.

Given all the connections mentioned above so far, it would not be a stretch to imagine that Jesus was illustrating a great flood coming upon the house of Israel for refusing to follow his words (and by extension, the words of his apostles) in the first century; and each warning takes for granted that not every house in Israel would survive the Jewish wars of 66-70 A.D. 

Only a fool would have chosen to build his house, as usual, upon the sand in that generation, as though no warnings were given to them about soon-coming judgment upon the land. Only a fool would have refused to build his house upon the rock, the foundation of which was Jesus and his Apostles.














1. Scholars debate as to whether there are eight or nine "official" beatitudes in chapter five, but based on grammar and literary parallels alone, there are most certainly only eight which were intended to form one distinctive literary unit. As far as the grammar is concerned, all eight beatitudes of verses 3 through 10 are addressed in the third person plural ("Blessed are those..."), whereas in verse 11 Matthew records Jesus' words in the second person plural, saying "Blessed are you-all..."). Also, the first beatitude of verse three begins and ends with an inclusio--a structuring device which brackets the beginning and end of a distinctive literary unit--that says "...because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens."
2. L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Ancient Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis And Exodus (Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA: Peeters; 2012) pp. 46-49, 100-111, 169-178, 214-230, 258-275
3. Donald D. Binder, Into the Temple Courts: The Place of the Synagogues in the Second Temple Period (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature; 1999)
4. As noted above in parentheses within the ESV translation of sections 3 & 4 above
5. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels (volume 1), John Henry Newman, trans. (Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2012) p. 225
6. A few stanzas of the song are as follows:
The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumbling down!

The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand went SPLAT!

So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ,
So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ,
Build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ
and the Blessings will come down.