Year A: Ninth Sunday Ordinary Time

The True Disciple

Matthew 7: 21-27

“Not everyone 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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name? Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you think of Jesus and judgment time, do you think of Jesus as your accuser, advocate or the judge? Explain.
  2. Do you think God’s judgment is the same as man’s idea of judgment? How does your answer limit or free you for compassion and mercy toward others?
  3. In what ways are you not only hearing Jesus’ words but acting on them? What are the actions you take?
  4. Do you think of salvation as something you have received as a gift or something you that you must earn?

Biblical Context

Mathew 7: 21-27
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

Today we read the conclusion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Between last week’s reading and this week’s reading the Lectionary selections have skipped the first twenty verses of chapter 7, in which Jesus warns the disciples to refrain from judging others, gives them. Lesson on prayer, tells them that the gate that leads to life is narrow. And warns them against false prophets.

Today’s reading begins with a judgment scene Jesus says, “Not everyone 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. Again, Jesus is preaching about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is present wherever the king’s will, that is, the heavenly Father’s will, reigns.

Jesus pictures his Father as the judge and himself as an advocate. Those being judged will turn to Jesus to plead their case: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name? ” Here Jesus is once more emphasizing that internal conversion is necessary. Not everyone who appears to be a religious leader and performs charismatic acts, apparently in Jesus’ name, is doing the will of the Father. As we know from Jesus’ earlier teaching, a disciple of Jesus must act with love and justice, not simply claim to act in Jesus’ name and appear to be powerful.

In response to the claims from these unconverted people Jesus will say, I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” Here Jesus is quoting Psalm 6, in which the psalmist, in great distress, begs God to listen to his prayer. God does listen and so the psalmist says to his enemies, “Away from me, all who do evil” (Ps 6:9). A person who merely claims to be a disciple of Jesus, but does his or her own will rather than the will of God, will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by using a theme common in wisdom literature: he offers the disciples two ways, the way of the wise and the way of the foolish. The wise person builds a house on rock. Nothing can knock it down. This person is like a disciple who not only listens to Jesus’ teachings, but acts on them. The foolish person builds a house on sand. When trouble comes, the house is destroyed. This person is like a person who has listened to Jesus, but then doesn’t act on what Jesus has taught. Once again, as Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount, he challenges his disciples to internal conversion, to acts rooted in love and justice. If the disciples choose the way of the wise they will enter the kingdom of heaven.

In a passage not included in the Lectionary? Matthew concludes this section of his Gospel by saying, “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt 7:28-29). The scribes had an important role in Jewish society. They quoted the words of the law and the prophets and applied them to contemporary situations. They did not, like the prophets, ascribe their words the scribes, quoted the prophets. We have seen this in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said….” But then Jesus contrasts these statements with his own teaching, prefaced by, “But I say to you….” No wonder the crowds were astonished at the authority with which Jesus taught. Jesus taught not only with more authority than the scribes, but with more authority than the prophets as well.

Withstanding Storms

Spiritual Reflection
John Shea

How do you go about “storm proofing” yourself? How does one move from being a hearer of the Word to being a doer of the Word? St. Matthew predicts dire consequences if this does not happen.But the Epistle of James explores his process more substantively.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. (Jas 1:22-25)

If you hear the word and do nothing else, you deceive yourself. The point of hearing is not hearing. The point of hearing is doing.

There are two aspects to doing the word. The first is to see yourself in the mirror and not forget what you see. The mirror is the teaching of Christ. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called people blessed, light, and salt. The reason is that they are connected to God and meant to bring God’s love and reconciliation into the world. Blessedness, salt, and light are the real faces of the followers of Jesus.

But we have other names, names that are true but partial. We are named according to our body—tall, short, bald, hairy, ugly, beautiful, fat, skinny, etc. We are named according to our role—son, daughter, husband, wife, carpenter, tax collector, etc. We are named according to our gender and ethnic group—male, female, Jew, Greek, Ethiopian, etc. We are named according to our personality— shy, assertive, extrovert, introvert, etc. We have many names, and the names that designate our physical, social, and psychological characteristics are reinforced by our everyday activities. The transcendent face of blessedness, salt, and light that we saw in the mirror of Christ is easily forgotten. But doers of the Word remember it.

The second aspect is our ability to look into the perfect law of liberty. Our transcendent self cannot be coerced by circumstances. It is not reactive to whatever is happening, reducible to stimulus and response. It is capable of responding “out of kind.” It can do good when good is not done to it; it can love when it is hated; it can extend peace when it is under attack. This law of liberty is not easily engaged. So if it would be the defining way we are in the world, we must persevere. But if we do, blessedness flows. This blessedness—the actions of the transcendent self— withstands storms.

So doing the Word entails being grounded in divine love and acting out of that awareness. But how does that make us “stormproof”? Life is storm. We are buffeted from within by our endemic mortality that eventually wins. We are slashed from without by persecution and the violent attacks of violent men. How does the transcendent self looking into the perfect law of liberty withstand those blowing winds?

In “Tickets for a Prayer Wheel,” Annie Dillard writes:

I think that the dying
pray at the last
not “please”
but “thank you”
as a guest thanks his host at the door.
Falling from mountains
the people are crying
thank you,
thank you,
all down the air;
and the cold carriages
draw up for them on the rocks.
([Columbia: University of Missouri, 1974], 127)

We withstand because we cannot be reduced to the storm. We are capable of gratitude in the very act of dying. The transcendent self is al- ways more than its circumstances. And if we court it and integrate it into all our frailties, we are “doing the Word” that makes us known by Jesus. “I do not know you” (Matt 25:12) changes to “enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21, 23) and “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34).

Huston Smith, a philosopher of the spiritual, talked about his daughter’s death in a way that suggests, “withstanding storms.” He acknowledged that during the eight and a half months of her sickness with cancer, he was tossed on the “emotional waves of ups and downs that are the human lot.” So withstanding storms does not mean suppressing emotions:

But I want to spell out how she and her immediate family rose to the showdown . . . Even when her condition had her at the breaking point, her farewells to us, her parents, in our last two visits were “I have no complaints” and “I am at peace.” Her last words to her husband and children were “I see the sea. I smell the sea. It is because it is so near.” She always loved the sea. I think it symbolized life for her.

Huston Smith commented further, “Her life had had its normal joys and defeats, but the spiritual work that she accomplished in those thirty weeks of dying was more than enough for a lifetime” (The Way Things Are: Conversations with Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life, ed. Phil Cousineau [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003]). Storm- proofing means spiritual work has moved us from being hearers of the Word to being doers of the Word.

So the full truth is: we withstand storms by realizing our transcendent face and communicating love even while we sink.

Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.

Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.