“I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.” — Luke 6:47-48, NRSV
I remember seeing an illustrated version of this parable. If I remember correctly, it was in Grandma’s Gospel, a book my grandma in West Virginia (who we are visiting this week) used to read to me on her front porch swing. I have always liked this teaching, even if at first it was because I’d laugh at the guy that thought he was building a strong house on sand. Anyway, I feel this is a good parable to ponder as we enter into a new year. Why?
A new year is a new opportunity, a chance for a new way of life for some of us. It is important that we take a moment to pause and consider how we are going to live in this new year. 2017 certainly revealed a lot about our more negative sides. Selfishness, greed, prejudice, and apathy marked the public sphere, leading to a sense of despair for everyone involved (except for those in power who benefit from the above sinful expressions). The question now is whether or not we want more of the same.
You see, such sinful expressions are the result of houses built “without a foundation” (Luke 6:49). Fragile existences based on possessions, status, self-satisfaction, or the need to be superior often fail us in the moments when the floods of life come along. Notice I said “when,” not “if” the floods come. The text says the same thing. “When a flood arose, the river burst against that house” (Luke 6:48).
Floods are going to come, regardless of whether or not our lives are rooted in stone or sand. Living a life founded on the rock of faith does not exempt one from the immense and often overwhelming pain life brings along. In similar fashion, basing our existence on things that can be easily swept away (work, relationships, self-importance, fleeting pleasures, etc.) doesn’t do us any favors either. The trick for this new year, then, is building our lives on a foundation that is not only strong enough to sustain us through the pain of life, but also has the power to provide shelter and peace for others in the midst of their own storms.
How do we do that?
It begins with the teachings of Christ in Luke, all summed up earlier in chapter 6. You might recognize the foremost of these teachings in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” From there, look around at the other teachings.
“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35).
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
This chapter is then wrapped up with the parable of two foundations.
Coincidence? Of course not. Keep up.
Jesus says the one who builds their house on a strong foundation is the one “who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them” (Luke 6:47). If we want to begin and continue this year in a new, better way, the best advice is build a foundation on those things that keep us kind, gracious, patient, loving, forgiving, and compassionate. What’s the best example? Look at Jesus.
Jesus was maligned almost everywhere he went. People claimed to be his disciples, only to abandon him with alarming quickness. He came teaching freedom, transformation, and a closer relationship to the Divine, which led to a miserable death on a cross. In the midst of mistreatment, persecution, beatings, and a humiliating execution, Jesus never compromised on his love, compassion, justice, and inclinations toward healing and wholeness for those who needed it.
If we want to experience a different sort of year, that’s exactly what it’s going to take for us.
Floods are going to come. Whether literally, as in Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast of the United States, or figuratively in the form of mass shootings, sudden loss of life, familial stress, unemployment, or the ending of important relationships, these floods all have the capability of turning us into self-serving people who only serve to feed the hateful atmosphere that has been so prevalent in our world as of late. If, however, we build our lives upon a foundation beyond ourselves, a foundation that prioritizes the care and well-being of others, we will be able to withstand the turbulent waters.
Will there be damage? There always is. Will life hurt? Of course. If, however, our lives are geared toward others, in alignment with the will of God, our pain can be healed and made useful. This results in a very different reality from the one we have seen before. You know, the one where our pain and our suffering and our desires take precedence over anything else.
As you go about beginning this new year, I hope you join in me in doing some construction work. How can we change the foundation of our lives to one that is firmly set on the unshakable rock that is the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ? We won’t always get it right, but our continuous efforts alone will yield something beautiful that will go a long way toward healing previous damage done to us, to others, and to all of creation. So let’s get started!
Happy New Year!
Peace be with you!