Here’s the story Jesus told about two houses (Matthew 7:15-21). As both the adopted son of a carpenter (Joseph) and one who was referred to as a carpenter in his own right, he knew about building (Mark 6:3).
Here’s the story as I imagine it.
There were two men each of whom decided to build a house. The first man had a sandy property a few hundred feet from a beautiful body of water. A little sweeping and leveling, he thought, and he could lay down heavy beams as a perimeter foundation and very shortly start framing up the house.
The second man saw his task as more complicated. His plot was similar, but he apparently didn’t trust the sand as a foundation. Instead he dug until he came to the rock below. That took several days but it gave a firmer grounding for his project.
By the time this man’s foundation was firmly anchored to the rock, the first man had his walls erected, roof installed, and windows and doors in place. He would be moving in, it appeared, while his neighbor was still working in the hot sun to frame up his walls.
Eventually both houses were completed. They were strikingly similar to all appearances. The extra digging done by the second builder may have been a waste of time. The sun was shining brightly on both.
As the season advanced, however, nature began to test both houses: heavy rains pelted the roofs, a blustery hurricane tore at the walls, and rising water softened and washed away the sand. The first house collapsed, while the second house remained firm.
This story concludes Jesus’ timeless Sermon on the Mount, which is sometimes called the Manifesto of the Kingdom of God — the kingdom he came to establish. As such we must ask what Jesus intended by the story.
First, consider a sampling of the orders he issues in this manifesto: his followers by their good deeds are to shine as lights in a fallen world’s darkness (7:14-16); they are to honor the sanctity of marriage by faithfulness even at high cost (5:17-32); to be private about their charitable giving to the needy (6:1-4); to practice simplicity when they pray (6:5-9); and, to beware of false prophets (7:15-21).
Consider now the issue raised by Jesus’ story of the two builders. What must one do to survive the storms of life? What’s this about digging down to the rock? Is the story a call to love the King of this kingdom? Strangely, it is not a call to love. Then, is the expected response to affirm in writing his teachings? Strangely it is not a call to affirm his teachings. It is not even a call to have faith in what he was saying though all three responses are vital in living life well.
The expectation Jesus himself identifies is this: 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 (7:24). Our Lord’s call is a call for radical obedience. It’s the obedience a king has a right to expect from his subjects.
His point is that his followers who practice radical obedience to these teachings will have endurance to survive the worst storms of this life and find protection when facing the final judgment.
Photo credit: iRubén (via flickr.com)