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Emilie Townes

Emilie Townes

Posted: July 26, 2010 11:44 AM

Editor's Note: Huffington Post Religion has launched a scripture commentary series, which will bring together leading voices from different religious traditions to offer their wisdom on selected religious texts. Next month we will have Muslim commentaries for Ramadan, and in September Jewish commentaries for the High Holidays. Each day this week we will have commentaries on the Gospel featuring reflections by Rev. Jim Wallis, Dr. Serene Jones, Dr. Emilie Townes, Sister Joan Chittister, and Rev. James Martin, S.J. They will all be offering their meditations on the same passage from Matthew 7: 24-27, in which Jesus says:

24Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell -- and great was its fall!

Rocks seem more like a hindrance in a culture such as the one in the contemporary U.S. that like to move things around, shake things up, go faster, higher, and longer. We get a bit twitchy at such signs of permanence -- especially if we are not the ones advocating or maintaining it. This passage challenges us to rethink the way in which we respond to change and challenges in life. Building on a firm foundation can help us live into the call to live righteously -- caring about others and ourselves, being attentive to the environment and the rest of creation, seeking to build cities and a nation that reflects a deep engagement with justice and democracy, insisting that our churches reflect abiding spirituality wedded to faithful social witness. Thinking that we can build these things on human disinterestedness, greed, hatred, and mean-spiritedness is building on highly suspect sand that shifts at will and whim and can be washed away with the harsh tides of the challenges we live with each day. A house that lasts needs a firm foundation.

The house I hope to be a part of building each day is the one built on righteousness. Doing so reminds us that the world we have now is not God's final word for us or to us. To be builders of this righteous house means that we move beyond the afflictions, perplexities, persecutions, and violence of today. With obscene wars playing in the background of our living, financial meltdowns that tease us with glimpses of a recovery that then slip away with the next month's financial indices, trouble in the land -- urban, suburban, and rural -- we are in fact the ones who must clean up the mess and not make it deeper or higher for the generations that are following us. This is somewhat of a challenge for the late baby boomers of my generation. We no longer have the focus of a civil rights movement, clownish oafish racists like Bull Connor, and what we see now as clear beacons of justice-makers like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks.

The shifting sands of today on which we build our houses to our peril and ultimate demise are difficult to detect. Subprime mortgages, political spin, racist and xenophobic behavior masked as concern for defending our borders (why do we not have the same reactions to those coming from Canada as we do those coming from Mexico?), declaring wars on cultures we do not understand and whose histories we ignore -- all these and more are the shifting sands of today. We craft public policies, international relations, and make religious pronouncements with sand between our toes.

Rocks are what we need to be searching for to continue building a more just and life-sustaining future. These rocks come from a spectacular Savior who offers us life over death, witness over complacency, and the strength, weakness, wisdom, and foolishness to stare at the hollow arrogance that frames too much of our living. We can then look inward and outward and work with each other while being held in God's span-less hands and step into the lives of the least of these who are found in the magnificent diversity of creation. This is a house built on the rocks of righteousness that refuses to accept maudlin loathing as divine commandment. This house can and will withstand rain, floods, winds and more because it is rooted in a faith that lives into creation boldly and without compromise or fear.