Where Wise People Build

The teachings of Jesus have shaped history and given definition to civilization. In the final section of Matthew’s rendering of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about His own teaching:

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (7:24-27).

This is a bold claim. To some, an audacious claim.

Matthew has this concluding editorial remark: “When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (7:28-29).

It is not that Jesus appealed to traditional authority. The traditionalists were his enemies. The “teachers of the law” taught differently because all they did was regurgitate tradition (and, particularly, a tradition that they had fabricated to elevate their class and protect their prerogatives). It is not that Jesus was wielding legal authority. He held no credentials and His extraordinary influence would increasingly put Him in the category of outlaw. So was it charismatic authority that Jesus possessed? Were the crowds mesmerized by His eyes and His voice? Not really. None of the Gospels say anything about the style of Jesus’ speech or His personal bearing. It was apparently what He said that grabbed people, not how He said it. One has to believe that as His extraordinary words came out of His mouth, their meaning struck everyone as so beyond-the-ordinary, so unexpected and so conspicuously true that they landed like arrows that sank deep without wounding–or at least they wounded those parts that deserve wounding. People were amazed at His teachings because they were a fireworks of insight that lit up the landscape of their lives. His teachings made them remember: We want to believe. And even when they went away mystified or ruffled, they knew they wouldn’t be able to forget His words. It became increasingly obvious why the voice of the Father from heaven at the baptism of Jesus said, “This is my Son. . . . Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

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