Self-deception, Hearers And Doers
Ordinary Time 9
3. Self-deception, Hearers And Doers
"Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the
kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my
Father in heaven. 22On 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 deeds of power in your name?' 23Then I
will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you
24Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on
them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on
that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on
rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not
act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on
sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew
and beat against that house, and it fellÄand great was its fall!"
28Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the
crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as
one having authority, and not as their scribes.
In the first part of 1994 heavy rains in California sent mud
slides down the hills near Los Angeles. Houses were ruined by
the slides. Heavy rains falling on areas that were denuded by
earlier forest fires caused the slides. The persons who were
affected by the mud slides looked to the government to help them
houses. Should these people rebuild in the same locations? If
they do, should those who have suffered by the mud slides get
government help to rebuild in the same locations? Are they wise
to continue rebuilding there?
The same question could be raised about the persons who
build in the flood plain of the Mississippi River. The federal
government declared the places where the river flooded a disaster
area, making those who were victims eligible for aid.
English, a town in southern Indiana, had the downtown area
flooded on a number of occasions because of the confluence of
several streams. They decided after a recent flood to relocate
the town on higher ground. With federal aid many of the
businesses have already relocated. At this writing some of the
private residences are being built on the hill east of town. A
whole new community is being created.
Perhaps the question could be raised: Who are the wise and
who the foolish persons or communities?
Context of the Church Year
This parable occurs at the beginning of the Pentecost season
of the church year. It is a time when preachers have the option
of choosing a variety of approaches for their sermons and for the
main emphasis of the worship service.
Choices include using some of the alternative readings for
the sermon. Other alternatives would be to set up a series which
would be based on some theme or related topics of the preacher's
Context of the Sermon on the Mount
The parable comes at the conclusion of the Sermon on the
Mount and is a summary of the admonitions given in the sermon.
It calls on those who heard the Sermon to take the admonitions
seriously. They are not just to be enjoyed as a mind game, but
translated in life. The persons who understand that what the
Sermon on the Mount is calling them to do is the proper
foundation for life must also realize the admonitions have to
become operational, not merely accepted as general principles to
Context of the Gospel Lesson
The parable is a short one, taking up only four verses in
the gospel lesson for today. It leads to the conclusion which
Matthew draws in reporting the astonishment of the crowd who
heard it. His teaching is contrasted with that of the scribes
who were legalistic and often pedantic. Jesus demonstrated a
vitality and dynamic that came out of his own life and
experience. The integrity of his own life contributed to the
validity of his message.
Context of the Parallel Parable
Both Matthew and Luke have the parable as the concluding
section of a chapter. Luke has some slight differences, probably
arising from his background outside of Palestine. Whereas
Matthew has the house built on rock or sand, Luke says that the
person who built on the rock dug down through the sand. Luke
also suggests that both houses were well-built, but that the man
who built on the rock had to dig down through the sand to find
Matthew probably had the awareness of someone in Palestine
who might build in a dry wadi, a stream bed that would be dry
during most of the year. In Palestine practically all rain comes
between October and April. Rain is scarce and sparse between
April and October. A person who builds in a wadi during the dry
season might have the residue of the sand beneath the house.
When the heavy rain comes during the winter season, the water
would rush down through the wadi and wash the sand away. The
house would them come tumbling down from the power of the water
rushing against the house.
Context of the Lectionary
The First Lesson. (Genesis 6:9-22, 7:24, 8:14-19) The
account tells the story of faithful Noah. When God sought to
destroy the people who were corrupt and disobedient, Noah with
his family could survive the flood. While he was not built on a
rock that could withstand the floods as in the Gospel reading, he
was provided with the means to save his family and to repopulate
the earth with both humans and animals. His faithfulness, even
when it appeared foolish, was vindicated.
The Second Lesson. (Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28) The readings
assert that the righteous live by faith. They are sustained not
by works but by their faith which proves acceptable to God
despite their sin. God provides the means for overcoming their
Gospel. (Matthew 7:21-29) The passage brings the Sermon on
the Mount to a close and prepares for the transition back to the
chronology which generally follows the Gospel according to Mark.
Psalm. (Psalm 46) The Psalm expresses the trust that in
the midst of all the change and distress of life, the faithful
will not be shaken and brought down. Trust in God provides the
believer the confidence that despite the worst that goes on
around him, God is still in charge.
Content of the Pericope
A. The first verses (21-23) deal with the importance of
matching obedience to the will of God with a person's words of
B. The second set of verses (24-27) follow up with the
importance of listening to the words which Jesus has just spoken
as the foundation for life. The verb listening suggests not just
the simple act of hearing but proceeding to act upon these words
as the basis of life.
C. The final set of verses (28-29) stresses the reaction of
the people who heard the Sermon. The authority of Jesus as one
who spoke the truth is contrasted with the scribes whose
teachings did not have the ring of authenticity. The issues
dealt with did not address the daily concerns of the people but
seemed to be pedantic.
Precis of the Parable
The parable of two foundations emphasizes the importance of
hearing and doing.
A building which is not on a solid foundation is subject to
external pressures. A substantial grounding in the person and
teachings of Christ provides a basis for withstanding the
pressures around us.
A building which has a foundation established on that which
is easily attacked by outside forces is not able to persevere.
Stormy events cause the building to collapse.
In like manner, a life not erected on the obedience to the
words of Jesus is subject to collapse when under the pressure of
forces that rage around it.
Thesis: The person who hears the words of Jesus and responds
to them in action has a stability able to withstand any forces in
Theme: Building life on the real foundation of Christ.
Key Words of the Parable
1. "Lord, Lord." (v. 21) The term Lord in v. 21 would
readily be understood in the New Testament period, both from the
Hebrew and the Greek, as referring to divinity. In Hebrew usage
it was a euphemism for the name of God, which was considered too
holy to pronounce. If one misused the name, fearful consequences
might follow. In this particular context it may have been a
translation of rabbi or teacher.
2. "On that day." (v. 22) This phrase was usually
understood to have eschatological reference. That is, it points
to the end time when God would call all people into judgment and
set up the ideal and universal kingdom at the end of the age.
For samples of Old Testament uses of the phrase, see Isaiah 2:11,
17 and Zechariah 14:6.
3. "In your name." (v. 22) The name of a person was
understood to represent that person's nature or essence. Thus to
pray or do something "in the name of" someone was to invoke the
true nature or power of that person. In some cultures people are
reluctant to give their name to a stranger for fear that by
knowing something of their nature the stranger will be able to
exercise some power or influence over them that might do them
harm or evil.
4. "Evildoers." (v. 23) The actual word translated as
evildoers is anomia. Literally translated the word means "those
who are lawless," that is, those who are without the law and
5. "On the rock." (v. 24) It is not clear if the reference
to the rock is only the foundation but also the whole house. Both
clay and stone were used for building houses in Palestine. These
materials were readily available and cheap. Apparently the
building material was not of clay but of stone. Clay would be
dissolved by the water of a storm or flood and be washed away.
Rock would be able to withstand the assault.
6. "Wise." (v. 24) Wisdom is more than knowledge.
Knowledge gives power but wisdom gives direction. In Hebrew
society wisdom was seen as derived from an understanding of the
law. Jesus is now proposing that wisdom comes from hearing his
words or teachings and being obedient to them.
7. "Foolish." (v. 26) The foolish person is one who relies
on his own knowledge and judgment without regard to the law or
the will of God. Such persons do not have the ability to know the
real meaning of life and the final outcome of history. They are
in peril of ultimate destruction.
8. "Authority." (v. 29) Authority adheres to persons who
are perceived to have knowledge, wisdom, competency, and
integrity. They have no vested or personal interest in the
outcome but have insight into what is real and true. Jesus was
believed to have a true understanding of the meaning of life and
its various relationships.
9. "Not as their scribes." (v. 29) A danger of
professionalism is that one depends on book learning and
tradition and loses touch with reality. Much of the teachings of
the scribes of Jesus' time was involved with casuistry, which
seemed to the ordinary people to be petty quibbling over minor
details or rationalizations to avoid the real demands of the law.
They did not seem to derive their teachings from their own
experience but drew it from book learning detached from life.
Insights and Points to Ponder
1. Lord, Lord. Jesus objects to the kind of religion that
relies only on some magical formula. People profess these
magical formulas and expect that the results will come despite
the absence of sufficient cause. Such formulas do not affect
motivation or change behavior. True religion is more than giving
verbal assent to some belief statements. Beliefs must be
integrated in such a way that they lead to actions which are more
than perfunctory or ceremonial. A commitment of trust in
addition to belief transforms life and is manifested in actions
which conform to the professions made. Someone once said that
many professing Christians demonstrate by their behavior that
they are practicing atheists. They act as if God does not really
exist or influence their decisions and behavior.
2. Lordship. Subjection to Jesus Christ as Lord is a source
of wisdom. He has a true understanding both of human nature and
the moral structure of the universe. His teachings give an
understanding of how persons should act to sustain a meaningful
personal life and to maintain the right relationships with other
3. The Forces People Face. The parable suggests that the
forces that assail life are external (the floods). They are in
fact both outside and within a person. If persons do not prepare
in advance by making commitments to real values, they will be
subject to all kinds of temptations and succumb to them. They
may arise from internal desires and impulses and so be within.
They may also come from such external forces as persecution, peer
pressures, materialism, and other false values that either
attract or threaten people. While most Americans are not subject
to the kinds of persecution which the first readers of Matthew's
writings experienced, our pressures may be the more subtle and
difficult to recognize temptations to simply fit into the society
around us. We do not recognize that choices are demanded since
they are not as obvious and the consequences of resisting the
values of the prevailing culture are not as evident.
4. Genuine Authority. Many persons and movements claim to
offer the real meaning of life. They need to be tested to see if
the authority they claim is real or has only the appearance of
reality. Many people are attracted to those who make strong
claims to offer security or certainty. Unquestioning submission
should not be given without testing what personal interest such
persons or leaders of these movements have to gain.
Authoritarian movements offer the attraction of certainty and
remove from persons the need to make their own decisions and
commitments. Eventually such authoritarian structures fail.
Jesus invited persons to voluntary discipleship. He was not
authoritarian in forcing people to decide. In fact, he at times
discouraged too easy an acceptance and expectation of those
persons who hoped to gain privilege and power by following him.
5. How do you Preach with Authority? If a preacher is to be
effective, he or she must speak with authority. The danger of
preaching which wins a following is that it may create a cult of
personality. Those who respond may tend to worship the messenger
rather than the message. A good preacher of the Gospel will
point beyond to the source of the message. Persons will be
invited to give allegiance, not to the messenger, but to Jesus as
the Lord. Those who listen need to be reminded to test the
authority to be sure that it comes from the source of the message
and is not dependent upon the messenger who proclaims it.
1. Building on the Rock. (7:24) Putting together the
elements of a life that is built on the rock. The elements are
not given magically but have to be installed through a series of
behaviors until they become a reflex of character.
A. Developing right habits
B. Developing right attitudes
C. Engaging in right actions
2. Testing Authority. (7:29) Persons need to test authority
so as not to become dupes of the fanatics who seek power and
glory for themselves and their movements.
A. Founded in Christ
B. Manifesting integrity through word and deed
C. Glorifying God and not self
3. Life Founded on Sand. (7:26, 27) Consider examples of
false bases for finding the meaning and welfare of life.
A. Mind-altering and addictive drugs
B. Sexual gratification
C. Fame and fortune
4. Forces that Destroy or Build (7:25-27)
A. Internal Forces arising from impulses and desires
B. External Forces arising from the environment
C. Spiritual Forces, e.g. the temptation to play God
5. Good Building Materials (7:25-27) How do we gather the
materials for a good life, so that we build with stone and not
the clay which dissolves before the floods that life brings?
A. Studying Scripture (good methods, proper use)
B. Prayer and meditation
D. The Service of Discipleship
Points of Contact
1. Independence and Dependence. A characteristic of much
adolescent behavior is a shifting back and forth between
independence and dependence. On the one hand, young people often
rebel against parental and other authorities to gain independence
and a sense of their own identity. On the other hand, they know
that they always live with some dependency on others and on
conditions over which they do not have control. Persons are
never free from this ambiguity even as mature adults. We would
like to have certainty and independence. People are particularly
vulnerable to those who offer an absolute security. The
prevalence of authoritarian regimes, whether political,
religious, or social organizations, gives testimony to this. The
parable speaks to the question of to whom obedience is given.
2. What is Genuine Worship? Worship is an acknowledgement
of that which is of highest or ultimate worth. Worship that
gives only verbal or token allegiance to the values represented
as the object of worship is not true worship. Jesus calls for a
response that goes beyond formalism. True worship transcends
specific acts, times, and places. It carries over into all of
life. True worship happens when that which is done on Sunday
leads to actions that accord with the worthiness or values
acknowledged in the formal acts as worked out throughout life.
3. A Hierarchy of Values. Some years ago a psychologist at
a church-related college was trying to understand why some
students persisted through four years at the college while others
transferred after a year or two to another college or university.
He developed the thesis that all persons have a hierarchy of
values. Usually persons have some single priority or controlling
value to which others are subordinated. That supreme value
affects all the decisions they make. He concluded that if the
person's hierarchy of values accorded with the value system
embodied in the college, the student persisted and graduated from
it. If it did not, the person transferred to another institution
in search of one that harmonized with his or her own value
Jesus called disciples to accept his hierarchy of values and
to act upon them. Those who were hearers and doers became his
disciples. Others went elsewhere in search of a similar value
system. A clear example would be the persons who made various
excuses for not following him immediately (see Luke 9:57-62).
4. Shifting Sands. Some values seem to offer the promise of
fulfillment of life. A trap of addiction which drugs offer is
the promise that a person will feel good when using them. A
person may try alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or some other drug.
Use of it gives a feeling of well-being. More is then used to
gain the same sense of well-being. Addiction occurs when such
persons cannot stand the absence of that feeling and need the
drug to attain it. In many instances the frequency or size of
the dose must be increased to get the same feeling or to seek a
greater sense of well-being.
The drugs may come to dominate the person's life. He or she
cannot live without it and will do anything to experience the
feelings aroused by the drug. The person may even know that the
final outcome of the drug is self-destructive. It may lead to
cancer from cigarette smoking or the damage from excessive use of
alcohol. It may cause the individual to become so obsessed with
the drug that he or she cannot function normally. The cost and
of the drugs may destroy family, job, income and other values in
Other false values also may seem to offer well-being.
However, they only lead to destruction, including the pursuit of
sex, money, or thrills as the goal of life. These things as a
basis for a person's well-being are shifting sand. Eventually the
life falls under the flood of pressures brought against it.
5. The Fads that Fail. Many fads have come and gone. They
offer the promise of the answer to life. A sense of history
shows the failures of these fads. Such fads in the past have
been the various assurances that the world is coming to an end
and that Christ will return. People who gave their lives to
these promises were eventually disillusioned, sometimes with
disaster for them and the movement. Nazism was a fad that
captured the allegiance of a whole nation in the '30s and '40s.
Communism was a longer lasting hope for many. Perhaps the New
Age philosophy today is an expression of such a fad. People need
to be aware of these shifting sands which prove eventually to be
false and come tumbling down.
1. The Hurricane in Florida. Prior to the hurricane that
hit the area around Homestead, some builders took shortcuts.
They used shoddy materials. They did not fasten the roofs
securely to the superstructures of the houses. They did not use
heavy enough materials for the "skin" of the houses. They did
not allow sufficient structural support for the roof or the upper
levels of the house. When the winds blew, the houses collapsed
as though they were houses of cards.
Since the hurricane, new codes and stricter inspections have
been enforced. They want to assure that any future storms of
hurricane force will not cause the same extent of damage. Proven
laws about proper building help assure people that the building
will not fall as easily in the future.
2. The Absence of a Stable Foundation. In some European
countries nominal church membership may be as high as 75 to 90
percent. Nevertheless, the attendance on any given Sunday
outside of the high holy days, such as Christmas and Easter, may
only be 2 to 3 percent. People sometimes refer to these
societies as "post-Christian." They once were informed and
determined largely by Christian values. Now they have become
essentially secularized. They live on what has been called a
"cut-flower religion." They may still have some of the
appearance of the flower of Christianity in many of the social
institutions and customs, but they do not have roots in the
Christian faith that continue to give life to the flower. They
are fading away and will eventually die if not fed by the sources
of new life.
3. Loss of Authority. In recent years a number of leaders
who exercised considerable authority faltered and lost their
following because of their indiscretions. Jim Bakker built up
the PTL Club through tele-evangelism. He had visions of a
complex of institutions. They were founded on a shaky financial
empire. His personal indiscretions undermined the whole
structure and it came down as his authority was destroyed.
Similarly Jimmy Swaggart gained a large following through his
television and radio programs. His authority was destroyed when
his life did not accord with what he had been preaching for
4. Building on Unsound Ground. Many people with plenty of
money have built fancy, expensive houses on places around Los
Angeles which never should have had buildings. The ground is
unstable. The area has faults underneath it which makes it
susceptible to earthquakes. People now say that those areas have
four seasons: fire, flood, earthquake, and mud slides. Fire has
denuded the ground and sometimes has taken the houses away.
Heavy rain makes the ground unstable and mud slides sweep down
the hills and take houses with them. Earthquakes come and
destroy houses and lives. Yet people seem to be foolish enough
to rebuild on the same locations!