The Severe Parable, by John Frye. (John asked me if he could write a series on my The Sermon on the Mount, no doubt in part because he needed margin to read such a book and in part because he could do double-duty for this blog, and I’ve greatly appreciated his fair summaries and his taking some of the conclusions into the world of church life.)
Scot McKnight summarizes Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Either do what he [Jesus] says, or don’t do what he says. It is your choice” (277). Matthew 7:24-27 is the subject of the final chapter of The Story of God Bible Commentary: Sermon on the Mount. Jesus ends his invitation into the kingdom with a parable, “a story that summons us to imagine a different world and, as a result of that imagining, to become different people called to work for a kingdom world now” (273).
The Bible from cover to cover presents two-option thinking: blessing and cursing (Deuteronomy 28), two ways (Psalm 1), and in the SoM, two masters, two gates, two ways, two trees, and now two builders. Presenting clear contrasts is a rhetorical way to intensify the moral imperative before us. Regarding the two builders, Scot writes, “There is no mystery in understanding this parable” (274).
I have read N. T. Wright’s take on this parable as a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem. Scot notes Wright’s view and comments, “It is difficult to know if Jesus has one specific place in mind, so we should perhaps focus on the general wisdom one gains from years of building: build on rock and the building will last; build on the sandier soil along the wadi and you will find your home in a heap” (274-75).
Scot offers numerous references that indicate “the storm is imagery of a person’s entire life in the presence of God’s final judgment” (275). What accounts for a life that stands in the final judgment? It is flat-out plain as can be: one either hears Jesus’ words and does them (practices kingdom obedience) or one hears Jesus’ words and does not do them. In Hebrew thinking “to hear” means “to obey.” Obedience to what King Jesus commands equals righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount. Both Paul (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and Jesus’ brother, James, (James 1:22-25) agree. Scot, in view of the severity of disobedience, urges us not to make this parable into a cute, fun ditty that children happily sing about. “The parable is one of the severest in the entire Bible” (275).
Scot emphasizes that doing the words of Jesus is not a new law. “The Sermon is not the Torah on steroids” (277). We are not responding to Law, but to the Law-giver; not to demands of Jesus, but to the Demander. We are responding to Jesus and to the startling audacity with which he spoke. Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…
We hear from Jesus the grand kingdom of God challenge; we receive from Jesus the ability to live as kingdom of God people. The Sermon surely emphasizes the challenge. Why? All of us have some very serious decisions to make that determine our eternal destiny in the final judgment. We don’t what to hear, “Depart from me” or experience “a great crash.”
I want to thank Scot for this precise, informative, and needling commentary. Reading it felt like hearing truth written in love.