Photo by Ladyheart on Morgue file.
Foundations are important. If a foundation is unsure or insecure, then no matter how magnificent the structure is that is built upon it, that structure is in real danger of collapse. In short, it would be better to have a shabby structure built upon a solid, sure foundation, than an elaborate, architecturally inspiring structure built upon a crappy foundation.
The foundation is, well, foundational. There are reasons contractors do not begin with the roof or even the walls; rather, they begin with a good, stable foundation. They do this because they know that if the foundation is iffy, the whole structure is in trouble.
Jesus used this wisdom in his first parable. In both Matthew’s account and Luke’s account of the Gospel, the first parable given is the Parable of the Two Builders; or, perhaps more appropriately, the Parable of the Two Foundations.
Jesus is known universally for his parables. However, when you read through Matthew’s gospel, the first parable (of the Two Builders) does not appear until the end of chapter seven; and, there are no others until chapter thirteen. Once chapter thirteen rolls around, parables begin coming forth from Jesus’ mouth with quite the regularity. I believe there is a good reason for this, a reason that can be gleaned from a perusal of Matthew’s gospel, paying particular attention to how the plot unfolds.
Back to the first parable, again it is found at the end of chapter seven of Matthew. The context is the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) which appears in Matthew chapters five through seven. The SOTM is the tour-de-force of Jesus’ teachings on Kingdom ethics. It is his how-to manual for all his disciples. In short, it is Jesus teaching us how a disciple (i.e. a believer in Christ, a Christian) should live their lives. That is to say, Jesus makes it clear that the way we live our lives matters!
Practically speaking, it means there is more to being a Christian than just simply saying I’m a Christian. I can claim to be any number of things: a goose for instance, but unless I look like a goose and sound like a goose, I’m probably not actually a goose! Same with being a Christian.
In the U.S., especially, we have run amok with the easy-believism fallacy. We tell a person that all it takes to be a Christian is to say a few words, or pray a certain prayer and viola! you’re in! Now, I’m not against praying or the like, but the problem is we often sell Christianity as a bill of goods amounting to a get-out-of-hell free card! Or, as we are in tax season, a hell-exemption clause.
We so stress the going to heaven bit that we leave out the real essentials of Christian faith and life. I mean, if a person has any sort of notion of an afterlife, coupled with any vague value system of blessings and cursings (or of heaven and hell) in that life, then obviously they want to try all they can to make sure they end up in the good place!
Easy-believism basically takes Christianity and reduces it all down in the pot to nothing but one prayer and a free trip to heaven at death. You see the problem? The Gospel becomes nothing more than a two hit wonder: a prayer now and heaven later. But, what about all the stuff in between? I mean, most people do not have the same experience as the thief on the cross. Most do not experience salvation and death at almost the same point in time. For many, there are years (literally a lifetime) between the two. So, what of all that stuff in the middle . . . you know, the stuff called life? Does the Gospel have nothing to do and nothing to say about that bit?
Again, I’m not against heaven! But, Christianity is about more than that!
Jesus teaches us that Christianity is about being a disciple. A disciple is a learner or a student of a master/teacher. Jesus, as our Master and Teacher, is the example we, as Christ-followers, are to emulate. So, when Jesus says, Do X, we are in turn to do X. If Jesus says, You musn’t do Y, then we as his disciples are not to do Y. When we fail to do X or we stubbornly do Y that is called sin and must be confessed and of which repented.
All this to say, the life of the disciple (i.e. Christian) is a life with demands upon it. Christ calls us and commands us to follow.
This was the whole point of the SOTM. It was why he concluded that sermon with the parable of Two Builders. Here is the parable in its entirety:
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. (Mt. 7.24-27)
Truly, the foundation matters.
In the next few posts, we will think through this parable and its implications. We will discuss the matter of foundations a bit more, along with the imagery of the storm and flood. We will look at the comparisons made between these two men, along with the one or two clear contrasts that are made between them as well.
All this is pretty standard fare when it comes to this parable. However, I think there is something even more profound being asserted in the parable (indeed, throughout Jesus’ life and teachings). This more profound aspect we will delve into as well as we move forward.
Until then, think about this parable. Even before you stop to consider what is meant by it, think about the particulars of the parable itself. Ask yourself questions like: Why did Jesus tell this parable at this time? In this context? Why did he tell it the way he told it? Why use this scenario? Why use these features? Out of all the metaphors he could have used, why did he choose this one?
Then, start thinking about the meaning, the proverbial moral behind the story. I like to think of parables as answering at least one crucial, fundamental question. So, I ask, What question is Jesus answering in this parable? But again, before you get to this stage, first contemplate the parable on its own terms, entering into its own world. Think through the physical-ness of it first before tacking the spiritual meaning/teaching.
Other Questions and/or Life Lessons:
- Why did Jesus so often teach in parables?
- Why did his parable teaching not start in earnest, in Matthew’s account, until chapter 13, almost half way through the book?
- Why are foundations so important?
- Why did Jesus draw upon this imagery in this parable?
- Why do you think he ended his sermon (i.e. the Sermon on the Mount) with a parable? Why this particular parable?