Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction to these reflections and please look at the readings for Sunday Mass here (these will open in a separate window for ease of reading):
“He dug and dug deep and laid a foundation on rock”. So says Jesus in the parable which brings his Sermon on the Plain to a close. The Gospel this Sunday is the third part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain which is introduced by “Jesus told a parable to his disciples”. Regrettably the parable about foundations which then concludes the sermon is not included in the reading. That may be because Matthew’s version of the parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount was preferred and there was no awareness of the differences between the two versions. Yet they are very different. The conclusion of both Sermons likens Jesus’ words to building a house. For Matthew the dramatic image is that of the wind and the rain coming down on the house built on sand and washing it away. For Luke though the emphasis is all on the foundations; it is the house without a foundation which will be washed away as the flood rises. Luke’s house therefore is founded on rock, a favourite image of the psalmist, as at the end of the psalm this Sunday. I reckon that it is Luke’s emphasis on good foundations which gives us the key to the Sermon that Jesus has just preached. Properly hearing the words of Jesus means digging and digging deep so that as disciples of Jesus we are solidly anchored on rock. And the rock is Christ, St Paul tells us.
Over three Sundays we have been hearing the Sermon unfold. At the same time, my own reflections about the Sermon have also been developing. This Sunday we hear the last part of the Sermon and we can at last reflect upon the Sermon as a whole. We need to see its distinctive role in the Gospel and how it encourages us to be disciples of Jesus for today. That it is short is a great advantage, as it tells us the basics about our discipleship both personally and within our families and communities. With Lent beginning this week, this is a good time for us to go back to our foundations.
We’ve seen the build up to the sermon in the previous reflections. The disciples have had time with Jesus, they have seen his healings and his conflicts with the Jewish authorities. Now, Jesus has called an inner group, known as the Apostles. They are ready for the next stage of their formation as we would say today. The Sermon is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus has addressed his disciples. It is indeed a foundation. What Jesus has received in prayer at the top of the mountain will now be delivered by the prophet Jesus to the people at the bottom.
The Apostles are closest to him, then the wider circle of disciples, then the crowd. We can askourselves where we are with those disciples, whether we closer to the Apostles or closer to the crowd. Those foundations are now to be laid by Jesus for us so that we can be his disciples for today.
The Sermon therefore began with the Beatitudes as we heard two Sundays ago. Poor and rich describe the fundamental attitudes for belonging to the kingdom of God. The poor are powerless and know their complete dependence on God, hence they are blessed. The rich by contrast aim to be self-sufficient so they get woes as warnings. Psalm 49 provides a goodmeditation about these matters.
Then last Sunday with the second part of the Sermon, we heard Jesus stressing the importance of love of enemies, we cannot just love those who love us. Above all, there is the need for compassion, which we receive from God and give to others. Again, this is fundamental and foundational about our own personal behaviour. To be a disciple of Jesus is all demanding on each one of us though to be lived in the circumstances of our lives. But so too will be the reward as sons and daughters of the Most High.
The third part of the Sermon is described as a parable, in the singular. The sayings that follow which form the Gospel this Sunday therefore need to be heard as a whole. I am now regarding the parable about foundations as a conclusion which begins with Jesus’ question, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say?” Questions always challenge.
The sayings therefore begin with the blind leading the blind making the point that in order to be a teacher one must first be a disciple and be like the original teacher. That teacher is the compassionate Father whom the disciples are called to imitate so that they can in turn be teachers. The reference to the speck in the brother’s eye means that true judgment begins with being realistic and critical about oneself. Attempts at inclusive language here miss the point: being a brother is not the same as being a neighbour. We are all brothers and sisters in our families and communities. Unless we begin with ourselves then we are not able to correct others with love, for the log in one’s eye does not allow one to see clearly1. The image of the tree and its fruit follows bringing out the importance of inner goodness. Trees bear fruit according to what they themselves are, and the same is true of people, Truly good deeds are those that emerge from a good person; and what evil people produce is evil. This is particularly true of speech for what the mouth utters expresses what is in the heart. This third part of the Sermon therefore teaches about how we behave with others, especially in our communities.
This Gospel is accompanied by a reading from the book of Sirach, often known as Ecclesiasticus, because of its considerable influence on the Church though it was one of the Greek books rejected from the Bible by the Protestants. Sirach is a wisdom book which is full of practical advice for our reflections, about friends for example. Some of the comments we do need to take in our stride, such as those about wives in the chapter before this Sunday’s reading. The short reading we hear this Sunday shows Jesus’ teaching in continuity with the wisdom traditions of the Old Testament as well as reinforcing his message in the Sermon.
The conclusion then opens with the challenge to put the whole sermon into practice. We cannot just say “Lord, Lord”, we cannot just celebrate magnificent liturgies. The Gospel has to be lived as Jesus has just taught so that our liturgy is then a true celebration of our living the Gospel. With Lent in view, the reminder to look to foundations and meditate constantly on the word of God will enable us, in the words of the Psalm, to flourish in the courts of our God and so proclaim: It is good to give you thanks, O Lord.
And with St Paul let us thank God for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 The Carmelite Rule says that as part of the Sunday gathering “at this time the excesses and faults of the brothers, if these are revealed in anyone, should be corrected by means of love.