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!
A house built on rock, or atop sand? The metaphor has immediate resonance, even for those unaware that this domestic imagery comes from the Gospel of Matthew. In tumultuous times, we take great comfort from our concrete slabs and steel girders -- not to mention social constructions like marriage vows, legal agreements, bank accounts, or our physical or military might. We trust these "rocks" will keep us high and dry. Or we do, at least, until they fail.
A decade has now passed since the dissolution of a supposedly sure foundation in my life -- an almost 20-year marriage. I'm a typical liberal Christian: I've always believed that "covenant making" was the bedrock of life, regardless of the sexes of the couple swearing their undying love. When I said my wedding vows at age 24, I fully believed my husband and I could keep them till death did us part.
Our inability to do so set off a tremor deep inside me, a crumbling of my foundations. We had built our relationship on our shared faith in God. If this wasn't enough to weather all storms, was there any foundational truth I could stand on? Wasn't everything I thought stable actually sand?
In the throes of my dissolving life, on a particularly hot summer night, I raged aloud at myself and at God. On my knees trying unsuccessfully to squash some ants who'd set up shop at the base of my trash can, I cried out, "Some great Christian I am, huh? I can't keep my marriage together, much less my house clean!"
To my great surprise, I imagined St. Paul was there with me, leaning against the refrigerator door, "You've got this 'sure foundation' stuff wrong, dear heart. No vow you can make will last forever -- not marriage, church membership, or national loyalty. Humans are too fallible, fickle, finite, and fearful to pull it off. The only promise that matters is the one God has made to you -- the vow to love you regardless. Forever. No matter what."
As I began to rebuild my life under the cloud of being a "divorcee," I thought often of how, and why, I'd envisioned St. Paul visiting me on that August evening. Think of the world in all its teeming, quotidian messiness, gently held by a God who promises to never turn away from it no matter what follies we pursue, what havoc we create. My own crumbling foundations were nothing compared to this kind of promise. I began to understand that this was not just a promise God made to me personally, but to the whole world. God will always continue to pour out abundant mercy and grace -- this is the rock-solid foundation.
Does knowing this free us from all responsibility? Hardly. We are still called to keep our promises, to care for our world and for each other. We must try to live pubic and private lives that are based on strong moral conviction. But when stock markets crash, when oil spills into the ocean, when wars spin out of control, and yes, when marriage vows are broken, we do well to remember that God's love is our rock. Knowing this, we'll have the courage to pick ourselves up and try again (and again), because we can rely on something that is unimaginably stronger than the shifting sands of our successes or failures.
Ten years on, I don't regret my divorce, but I still grieve it. But with Paul and Matthew as my witnesses, I know I stand with the world on a firm foundation.