Today we rejoin the Sunday cycle of Ordinary Time, only to encounter the verses that form the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. To appreciate this conclusion, it may be helpful first to look back at the sermon as a whole. With the Beatitudes Jesus sketches the values and attitudes needed to enter and enjoy God’s kingdom: poverty of spirit, hunger and thirst for justice, compassion, meekness, mercy, integrity, peacemaking and willingness to suffer persecution for justice.
Then with the images of salt of the earth, light of the world and a city set on a hill, Jesus emphasizes how important we are in our world. After proclaiming that he came not to abolish the Mosaic Law but to fulfill it, he challenges his followers to practice a better righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees; he shows us how to go to the root of the commandments about murder, adultery, divorce, taking foolish oaths, retaliation and love of neighbor. Next he instructs his followers to carry out the three great acts of Jewish piety—almsgiving, prayer and fasting—without drawing undue attention to themselves. He offers advice on various topics treated by Jewish wisdom teachers: trust in God, integrity, money matters, steadfastness in prayer and the Golden Rule (“Do unto others…”).
The sermon concludes with warnings to enter through the narrow gate, to avoid false prophets and to build a life on the firm foundation of Jesus’ wise teachings (which is the topic of today’s Gospel passage). In today’s selection Jesus contends that it is not enough simply to say “Lord, Lord” or to prophesy or to exorcise demons. Rather we must hear Jesus’ wise teachings and also act upon them. The text reminds us that the Sermon on the Mount is not merely an interesting historical document or a stirring piece of rhetoric or an ethical treatise, though it is all of those things. Preeminently it is a practical document—something to be lived out, acted upon and practiced in everyday life.
Jesus’ wise teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Gospels are part of the larger narrative of the one whom we revere as the Son of God and the Word of God, the one who gave his life so that we might be the children of God alongside him. The teachings are intended for all his followers, not just for the 12 Apostles or an elite inner circle or the first few generations of Christians. They are surely difficult and challenging teachings, and often we may fall short of their perfect fulfillment. Yet they represent the best wisdom that Jesus has placed before us. Those who hear the teachings and act upon them will be like one “who built his house on rock.”
The wise teachings of Jesus provide us with the rock on which to build our lives. It is then our privilege and responsibility to make the house the best house we can. His teachings are meant to be acted on and put into practice, but always with the help of God’s grace given to us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.