Homily for 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2008
We are all familiar with the problems caused when people build houses on flood plains. Building in view of the 100 year flood levels seems to be a risk worth taking especially if the price of the land is right. However, if the flood does come we look for someone to blame like the local Council. It is just such a scenario that Jesus puts before us in the Gospel. What risks are we taking in our lives? What foundations do we build upon?
The parable we heard today from Matthew comes as the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, like Moses in our first reading from Deuteronomy, is summing up all he has said. His Sermon begins in chapter five with the "Beatitudes" and extends over chapters six, and seven of the Gospel of Matthew: "Everyone who hears these words and acts upon them is like a sensible man who built his house on rock."
What is this foundation he recommends? If you read his Sermon on the Mount his kind of foundations can appear to make one very vulnerable indeed! Just think of the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor! Poverty surely is no recommendation for security. And certainly, loving one's enemies and turning the other cheek does not seem to help either. That could lead one to a great deal of discomfort.
They are not the way of life often recommended by the world around us which says things such as these:
"Seek your own interests first nobody else will. Be ambitious and do what it takes to get ahead. Use people to your own advantage and do not give an inch to your opponents. Image is everything in a media conscious world. And use religion if it makes you look respectable but don't let it get in the way of a good time."
Yet that is the paradox of the Gospel. It is in making oneself vulnerable to others and to God that we find the true foundation of life. It is in dying to oneself that one finds life. That was Jesus way. He placed himself completely in our hands in response to his Father's will. So Jesus lifestyle must become our lifestyle.
We church people are very good with words. We use them all the time. We argue about the right words to use to define what we believe for centuries. We spend years writing what we hope are the correct words to use in liturgy. We preachers never run out of them! We run the risk as Jesus tells us that our words do not produce any fruit. They can be as empty as a gong booming if they are not motivated by love. It is not enough to say the right words. We must act upon them.
Our lifestyle will advertise our Christian commitment, not the quantity of prayers we say - just as a tree is known by its fruit. We think we can fool other people. But people, especially the young, can easily see through any pretence.
The earth quake in China is a pointed reminder that all the things we pin our hopes on can be dashed in a moment. So it is ever more urgent that we place our trust in God. Jesus here is making the greatest of claims. In this Sermon he claims to be the authentic interpreter of the Law of Moses. "You have heard how it was said..... now I say to you..." (cf Matthew 5:21). That Law is the basis of the whole Jewish religion and culture. It is a monumental shift for his hearers to take in. For his disciples he is the one we should listen too. His way is the one we follow.
So when we come to the Eucharist and say "Amen", let it not just be a word we mutter but the commitment to a life lived on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ.