Self-deception, Hearers And Doers

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Proper 4

Pentecost 2

Ordinary Time 9

3. Self-deception, Hearers And Doers

Matthew 7:21-29

"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

rebuild their


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

to be


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

be believed.

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

the rock.

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

previous sin.

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

therefore sinners.

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.

Homily Hints

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

C. Worship

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.

Illustrative Materials

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!


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