The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headline is meant to keep my thinking real:
Isaiah 26:1-6 ©
That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
to guard us he has set
wall and rampart about us.
Open the gates! Let the upright nation come in,
she, the faithful one
whose mind is steadfast, who keeps the peace,
because she trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord is the everlasting Rock;
he has brought low those who lived high up
in the steep citadel;
he brings it down, brings it down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust:
the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor
trample on it.
The poor may be within the wall of an ancient city but the rulers are in the high citadel. This poem by Isaiah reverses the status of these groups: the powerful of the land will be destroyed while the ordinary people will be secure. Perhaps at times this was what happened when a city was taken, the conqueror concentrating on eradicating the leaders while the others were largely ignored. But the prophet is saying that God favours the lives of the peaceful poor to those of the aggressive rich. So if we’re honest we have to argue with Isaiah and point out that in so many conflicts the poor are massacred whle the rich escape the consequences of their aggression. In fact we don’t need to argue because the disadvantage of the poor is everywhere evident, as now in the USA. So what’s Isaiah on about?
At one level he’s insisting on the uncomfortable fact that being rich makes you are target for the invader; just because you are elevated, you are obvious and therefore vulnerable. There are times when the surviving poor will walk over the ruins of the mansons of the rich.
But at another level he’s talking bollocks. He says God will protect the poor who believe in justice and peace and trust in God. I see no evidence of this and every evidence to the contrary. I would be delighted if I could advise someone to act on the words of this passage, but I have to admit that it seems a recipe for suicide. For whom is the Lord an everlasting rock? Christians have to intepret this passage in the light of Jesus’ criucifixion.
Matthew 7:21,24-27 ©
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’
This is Matthew’s version of a parable which seems nonsense. The pyramids are built on sand. Luke restores common sense by saying that the house built on sand has no foundations. Jesus was a builder and would have known what made houses strong. Firm foundation seems a good suggestion. But it’s beyond argument that Jesus was making it clear that mere appreciation of his teaching would not survive testing circumstances while “hearing and doing” would be indestructible. Those who “hear and do” will not bend to terrible circumstances or worldly coercion but will hold to the rule of God. This is a recipe for maintaining integrity in hard times.