Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 20 What is the Rock?
By way of explanation for those of you who are guests this week, we have been reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship for opening. So far my technique has been somewhere between a book review and an argument: my thoughts and comments are at least inspired by what Bonhoffer has to say but I do not always come out at the same place he does.
Now for the last dozen or so chapters we have been discussing Bonhoffer’s musings on the beatitudes. We’ve read Matthew chapters 5-7 and discussed each one of Jesus’ sayings to his disciples. Today we are at the end of Matt 7, at the end of the beatitudes. Before I read the scripture for today, however, I want you to consider all the things Jesus has told us. Place yourselves again with the apostles: you have just been chosen from among Jesus’ followers to be his special chosen disciples. Jesus took you aside, a little bit above the multitudes, and he has special instructions for you and the rest of the disciples. Jesus is announcing to us and to the multitudes what he expects from his followers.
And as he talks you are blown away. What he has to say is like nothing else anyone has ever said. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are they that mourn. Blessed are the meek and the merciful and the pure in heart. Now this sounds pretty good. Its unusual, sure, but who can be against blessings? But it all goes downhill from there. Blessed are the persecuted. In fact, they should rejoice in their persecution! This is sounding less promising.
And then Jesus had to start making demands and giving advice. Don’t be angry or violent – that is as bad as murder. Don’t give oaths. Don’t lust – it’s as bad as committing adultery. Love everybody, even your enemies! In fact you should do good to those who do bad to you!
Now all this is against our natural inclinations; it runs against the grain, against our natural selves. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to demand that we live our lives without self-righteous pride: our good deeds, our fasting, our prayer must all be done for God alone, in secret and hidden away from men. We cannot seek security in money but must turn our security over completely to him.
Now if we could do what Jesus says to do we might feel pretty proud of ourselves. We are definitely the inner circle, the elite! And anybody who doesn’t measure up to our high standards, why we’ll straighten them out. But even this, pride in only our obedience Jesus strips from us. We are not to judge others, he said, for the attitude we use to judge others will be used to judge us. We are instead to concentrate on ourselves, pulling the metaphoric plank from our own eyes rather than focusing on the dust that might cloud the vision of others. We are to produce good fruit but all of our good deeds will not earn us entrance into heaven. Only knowing Jesus, and that alone, can save us.
Jesus has taken from us everything now. We cannot defend ourselves or engage in the rough and tumble warfare that life requires. We cannot find satisfaction or fulfillment in gaining riches. We are not even to take pride in our spiritual accomplishments. This is ridiculous. Jesus surely doesn’t expect us to really live like this. There must be something we are missing: some hidden meaning. Perhaps all of this is just a lesson for us or a picture of what life will be like in heaven! Maybe that's it. But wait, Jesus is speaking again. I think He is about to finish His instructions. Listen to what He has to say.
24 "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall." 28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
The people were astonished. And well they might be. We sometimes fail to take in the radical nature of Jesus commands to us. We look for an outlet, a contradiction, something that will allow us to escape this upside down ethic Jesus demands. But what does he say at the end? We have a choice: to be built on a foundation or to built on the sand. I love to remind people of this parable and ask them what the two men represent. Invariably I am told that the man who built on a foundation is to be built upon and to know Jesus. To be built on the sand is to not know Jesus.
But we don’t have to guess what the meaning of this parable is. Jesus tells us! Both of these men know Jesus enough to hear his words. But only one obeys. Only one does them. This then is the foundation: obedience to Jesus’ commands. Obedience is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple.
A friend of mine made an important observation about this topic yesterday. He said to me that every time he talks about obedience people make arguments against legalism. I think there is real insight there. I am glad to agree with every bad thing you can say about legalism: how it kills the spirit, that it is the exaltation of man’s rules over God’s, that it leads to self-righteousness and a contempt for others. All this is true. But it does not change the fact that it is to obedience that we are called. We hear Jesus’ message and sometimes we don’t like it very much. But may we turn our hearts to obedience and petition God to grant us the strength to simply follow Jesus.