You’re probably familiar with Jesus’ parable about hearing his words and putting them into practice: that the one who does so is like someone who builds his house on rock, and then the floods and storms cannot shake it, while with one who doesn’t is like one who builds his house on sand, which house is then destroyed when the floods come. There are two versions of this, one in Matthew and one in Luke, which have slight but significant differences. I guess I was most familiar with the one in Matthew. As I opened the Gospel to read from St Luke, I asked Our Lady, my teacher in things divine, to show me things I hadn’t seen before, and as usual, she did!
The first difference between Matthew and Luke is that in Matthew’s version, Jesus speaks of those who hear his words and do them. But Luke recounts that Jesus said: “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like…” (Lk. 6:47). This coming to Jesus makes the difference, I think, in whether or not one does what one hears in the word of God. I have written in past months about hearing similar words from Jesus and Mary: “Come to me…” In one form or another, this invitation has been repeatedly offered, and I’m doing my best both to understand it fully and to respond wholeheartedly. It seems to me that it is possible to hear the words of Jesus without really coming to Him. Anyone can pick up the Bible out of curiosity, or as a sort of dutiful but half-hearted routine, or out of academic interest, or even with the intention of criticizing or trying to disprove it. Thus they can “hear” his words, but if they don’t come to Him in a personal way, with faith, with a desire to understand, with an open heart, it is unlikely that they will end up doing what the Lord says.
So when we open the Gospels to hear the words of Jesus, we ought to do it in such a way that we are really coming to Him, personally, eagerly, opening our hearts and minds to divine truth, with willingness to put into practice what we shall hear. And this willingness must be sincere, and our efforts diligent; otherwise we are no better than hypocrites. In the preceding verse, Jesus asks that question that probably makes a lot of us cringe: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”
The next difference between Matthew’s version and Luke’s is that when Jesus talks about building the foundation of one’s building (i.e., of one’s life) on rock, we see that in Luke Jesus first says that the man “dug deep” and then laid the foundation upon the rock. This is also significant, I think. It says something about hearing the word of God and about spiritual life in general. Being the word of God, Scripture is not fully understood with a superficial reading. The Fathers of the Church in their commentaries, and the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Church in her presentation of the mysteries of our faith, have dug deep into the word of God to discover the great richness and layers of meaning, which yield much fruit for our understanding and our Christian life. So we have authoritative interpretations of the Scriptures, which are much more reliable than the personal interpretations of any individual. If the Lord wanted every individual to decide for himself what the Bible means, and hence what Christian doctrine is (and we see the lamentable results of those who think they can do this—thousands of different denominations, which came into being over disagreements as to the meaning of Scripture), then He never would have established his Church to be the guiding light for those seeking the whole truth of divine revelation.
We also have to “dig deep” in the events of our daily lives, to avoid superficiality and pettiness, to discover the presence of God in other people, in nature, and in every way God wishes to reveal Himself. His presence, his truth, his gentle invitations are not obvious to everyone, so the storms and floodwaters of our often tumultuous lives can destroy those who have not dug deep and laid a foundation on the Rock of Christ, as well as on Peter the Rock, on which Christ promised to build the one Church that would not be destroyed by the powers of Hell (see Mt. 16:18-19). This Church has existed for nearly 2000 years and has weathered many severe storms (not the least of which are raging even today), but she has been founded on Rock and will stand until the end of time, faithful to her divine Founder, despite attacks from without and infidelities from within.
Finally, we have to dig deep within our own hearts, to see what is there. Just before this passage, Jesus said: “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” That is why He also said: “Each tree is known by its own fruit.”
So when we wish to hear the word of the Lord, let us not just absent-mindedly pick up the Bible and open it. We should make an explicit act of coming personally to Jesus, in faith and in love, with a sincere willingness to do what we are going to “hear” when we read. And let us dig deep, making sure our foundation is laid on rock, on Christ, on his Church, so that we understand the full depths of meaning that the Holy Spirit has embedded in his revelation. Finally, let us make sure our hearts are as pure as possible, through repentance and confession, through pure intention and desire to hear the word of God and keep it, through prayer and a consistent sacramental life. Then the “building” of our lives will be secure, and despite the storms and wind and rain that lash against it, it will not be shaken but will stand firm, founded on Rock.