9th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 11:18, 26–28, 32; Romans 3:21–25, 28; Matthew 7:21–27
Hearers versus doers Knowledge needs to be translated into action; theory into practice; theology into life.
In April 1963, a party of about 20 French Christians was on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. They were making their way through a long, narrow gorge called “The Pass.” Four elderly pilgrims and a driver were in a landrover; the rest were on foot.
Suddenly a light rain began to fall. Minutes later, it turned into a cloudburst. Within half an hour, the cloudburst sent flood waters streaming down from surrounding hills. When the waters hit “The Pass,” they transformed it into a roaring river.
The water carried the helpless pilgrims away like pieces of driftwood. An eyewitness told a Time magazine reporter:
We saw the little car with the four women and driver swept along by the torrent. . . .In an instant they all disappeared in the floodwaters raging along at perhaps 60 miles per hour.
It was this kind of situation that Jesus had in mind in today’s gospel.
The Holy Land is filled with gullies and ravines. For the most part they are relatively safe places to build a house, but occasionally a flash flood strikes and turns the gullies and the ravines into raging rivers.
When a wise person builds his house on the side of a gully or a ravine, he makes sure that it is anchored firmly to the rock.
If it isn’t, it can be swept away by a flash flood just as the group of French pilgrims and the landrover were.
The point of Jesus’ parable is that the word of God is ntended to be the rock upon which we build our lives. If we don’t anchor our lives solidly on the word of God, the time will come when we too will be swept away by the raging waters of life.
Like the landrover in the story, we too will be carried away by the flood. Like the house built on sand in Jesus’ parable, we too will collapse and be completely ruined.
The word of God is the rock upon which we must build our lives. It is not enough to listen to it. We must do something about it.
Some years ago, a young man applied to teach religion in a Catholic high school in India. When the principal asked him if he were a practicing Catholic, he replied:
No, I am a Hindu; but I know Catholic teaching thoroughly. I went to Catholic schools all my life. I’d gladly take a test to prove my competency.
The principal explained to the young man that the heart of Catholicism lay not in knowing Catholic teaching but in living a faith-filled, Catholic life.
Knowledge needs to be translated into action. Theory needs to be put into practice. Theology needs to be reduced to life. We must be not only hearers and knowers of the word, but doers of it as well.
As the great spiritual writer Thomas à Kempis says, It’s more important to be humble than it is to know the definition of humility.
The first step in becoming a doer of the word is to become a pray-er of the word. We must take the word to heart, reflect on it, and try to see how it applies to us and to our lives.
For example, take Jesus’ words, My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. John 15:12
The first step in translating Jesus’ words into action is to ponder them prayerfully.
For instance, we ask ourselves how Jesus himself would live out that word if he were in our own life situation.
In terms of family life, what does it mean to love one another as Jesus loved us? Concretely, how might Jesus treat the members of our family if he were us?
We go a step further. We speak to Jesus about our family situation. We describe it in detail. We tell where the problems lie and what the problems are. We ask him for his guidance, his courage, and his grace in dealing with them.
This leads to the second step in translating the word into action. It is this:
Once we have decided how the word applies to our life situation, we take concrete steps to implement it.
We do something concretely and immediately about it. We don’t wait around. We act.
Chances are if we don’t act on God’s word in some concrete way within the first 24 hours, we probably won’t act on it at all.
We will end up like the foolish man in the Gospel, who hears the word but doesn’t put it into practice.
And so, if our life is not anchored solidly on God’s word, we too will be carried away by the raging torrent of difficulty and temptation.
In review, then, the two steps we must take to translate God’s word into action are these:
First, we must ponder God’s word prayerfully. We must take it to heart, reflect on it and determine how it applies to us and our lives.
Second, we must take concrete steps to implement its application to our lives. We must reduce it to immediate and concrete action.
Let’s close by reflecting prayerfully on the words of Moses in today’s first reading:
Remember these commands and cherish them. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder. . . .
Today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse.
I give you a choice between life and death. Choose life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Series II 9th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 11:18, 26–28, 32; Romans 3:21–25, 28; Matthew 7:21–27
Seeking God’s will Only those who do God’s will, will enter God’s kingdom.
G. Gordon Liddy was one of the men convicted in the Watergate affair that forced President Nixon to resign in 1973.
Commenting on Liddy’s role in Watergate, the respected columnist Stewart Alsop wrote: Curiously enough, in another time, G. Gordon Liddy would have been regarded as among the bravest and the best. . . . In wartime, G. Gordon Liddy would have been festooned with decorations rather than slapped in jail.
In other words, Liddy played out his role in the affair exactly as he was taught to play it out as a secret service agent of the government. After his release from prison in 1977, Liddy described his role in the Watergate affair in an autobiography, entitled Will.
That was a fitting title for his autobiography, for from childhood Liddy has been a man of tremendous willpower. He said he first learned to appreciate willpower “listening to priests at Sunday Mass.”
In his book he described how he used to perform painful and distasteful acts in order to strengthen his will. For example, as a youngster he ate part of a rat. On other occasions he held his hand steady in a burning flame.
In the 1960s Liddy abandoned his Catholic faith. But 20 years later, in the 1980s, he underwent a religious conversion.
It came about as a result of attending Bible-study meetings with his former FBI colleagues.
Commenting on his Bible-study experience, Liddy said that he finally realized that the Bible is more than a book of human wisdom. It is the communication of a loving Father to his sinful children.
He went on to say that he has resolved to spend the rest of his life seeking and doing God’s will.
Charles Colson, another Watergate defendant, quoted Liddy as saying after his conversion:
The hardest thing I have to do now, every day, is to decide what is God’s will rather than what is my will. What does Jesus want, not what does Gordon want. So the prayer I say most often is, first of all, “God, please tell me what you want. . . .” And second, “Give me the strength to do your will.”
Colson continued, saying:
I don’t know what will happen to Gordon I pray for him regularly. But whatever else, he has already given us a classic definition of repentance to surrender one’s own will to the will of God. “A Bright Light in a Dark Age” in New Covenant magazine (October 1988)
Liddy’s story serves as a fitting introduction to and commentary on today’s gospel reading. In that reading Jesus tells us: “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do.”
Jesus underscored these words about doing God’s will in the only prayer he ever taught his followers.
He taught them to address the Father in these words:
“[M]ay your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
Jesus’ teaching to his followers about God’s will is simply a reflection of his own attitude toward God. He himself said of his reason for coming into the world:
“I have come down from heaven to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John 6:38
And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to his Father in these words:
“Not my will, however, but your will be done.” Luke 22:42 This brings us back to the prayer that G. Gordon Liddy prayed most often:
God, please tell me what you want me to do.
And what does God want us to do? We may answer that question in a twofold way.
First and foremost, God wants us to follow the teachings of his Son, Jesus.
Among these teachings are those of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells us:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27–28
Also among the teachings of Jesus are those of his sermon on the Last Judgment, where Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked. (Matthew 25:31–46)
Second, God wants us to live out the plan he had in mind for us when he created us.
And what is that plan?
It is to use the talents God gave us, not for our own selfish interests and pleasures, but for the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth.
If we want to do this with the same commitment and dedication that G. Gordon Liddy is now seeking to do it, we must do what is he doing.
And what is that?
We must make his prayer our prayer. We must pray daily for the light and the strength to know and to carry out God’s plan the one God had in mind when he created us.
And if we do this, we can be sure that God will help us to know and to do in our daily lives what he wants us to do.
Let’s close with a famous prayer by Saint Ignatius. It has to do with God’s will.
You may recognize the words, for they were set to music and are frequently sung in special liturgical situations.
The words read:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will all that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.
Series III 9th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 11:18, 26–28, 32; Romans 3:21–25, 28; Matthew 7:21–27
God’s Word We listen to it with our body, mind, heart, and soul. Not everyone who calls me “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom . . . but only those who do the Father’s will. Matthew 7:21
The first five books of the Bible are called the Books of Moses.
The last chapter of the fifth book, the Book of Deuteronomy, ends with the death of Moses. Just before he dies Moses blesses each of the 12 tribes of Israel separately.
For example, in blessing the tribe of Levi, which is the priestly tribe, Moses prays that they may learn God’s will by the Urim and Thummin.
As we ponder this blessing, we ask, “What are the Urim and Thummin?” Scholars translate these two words as “light and perfection.”
Elsewhere in the Bible, the words seem to refer to objects used by high priests in Israel’s early history to discern God’s will in difficult cases. Numbers 27:21
There’s a story about a new minister who prided himself on knowing the biblical meanings of such things as Urim and Thummin. He also liked to display his wisdom.
One day he learned that there was an old shoemaker among his parishioners who was renown for his wisdom and understanding of the Bible.
And so at service one Sunday, the new minister decided to test the old man and, in the process, display his own understanding and wisdom. The first question he asked the old man was, “What is the meaning and purpose of Urim and Thummin?”
To his amazement, the shoemaker said, “I am not sure, but their purpose was to help the high priest discern God’s will.”
Then the shoemaker smiled and said, “But I am sure of this much. By obeying the words of Jesus we don’t need Urim and Thummin to know God’s will.”
This story fits in beautifully with today’s Gospel, where Jesus says:
Anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. . . .
ABroadway play, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, dealt with Spain’s conquest of Peru.
In one scene a Spanish leader gives an Inca leader a Bible, saying that it is God’s Word.
Filled with curiosity, the leader raises the Bible to his ear and listens. When he hears nothing, he slams the Bible to the ground, feeling that he has been duped.
This raises the question: “How ought we to listen to the words of Jesus, as they are read each Sunday at Mass?”
First, we ought to listen with our body. That is, we ought to listen reverently. An early fourth-century bishop used to tell his congregation:
You receive into your hand the Body of the Lord reverently, lest even a tiny crumb fall to the floor. You should receive the Word of the Lord in the same way.
And so the first way we ought to listen to the words of Jesus is with reverence and attention.
Second, we ought to listen to them with our minds.
For example, we ought to try to imagine what went on in the minds of the disciples as they heard Jesus say to them:
Not everyone who calls me “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father. Third, we ought to listen with our hearts. That is, we ought to “take to heart” what Jesus says and obey it. Here’s an example of “taking to heart” the words of Jesus.
Some prisoners in Riker’s Island, New York, were silently meditating on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The room was cold and one of the inmates was visibly shivering.
Suddenly, another inmate wrapped in two blankets took one and gave it to the shivering inmate.
That prisoner not only listened to the Word, but also “took it to heart.” Finally, we ought to listen with our souls. That is, we ought to listen with faith.
In other words, we place complete trust in what Jesus tells us.
I n brief, then, we ought to listen to God’s Word with our whole being: reverently with our bodies, imaginatively with our minds, obediently with our hearts, and trustingly with our souls.
So what Moses said to the Israelites after he came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, Jesus says to us also:
Remember these commands and cherish them. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder. . . .
Today, I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse a blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today;
but a curse, if you disobey these commands and turn away to worship other Gods. Deuteronomy 11:18–19, 26–28
Let us close with these words from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews:
The word of God is alive and sharper than any double-edged sword.
It cuts all the way through to where soul and spirit meet. . . .
It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. . . .
There is nothing that can be hidden from God. . . .
And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves. Hebrews 4:12–13