21st Sunday Ordinary Time – “On this rock I will build…”

On this rock I will buildJesus proclaims his church to be built on rock.  I offered a view of what “Church” means in this passage yesterday.  Today, let’s look at petra, “rock” and oikodomeo, “to build.”  Here again is our basic text:

Matthew 16:18            And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Both of these terms occur in a single and highly significant passage at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7:24–26               “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The 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.  And 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.

It seems to me that the key to deal with this scripture involves the capacity of Simon Peter to listen & act on Jesus’ words.  Wisdom implies solidity.  Foolishness connotes collapse.  And these are the two great paths opened to all Jews in the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible – Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Sirach, etc…

It doesn’t read like Jesus will base his choice of Peter on his capacity to listen & act.  It seems to say that the church for which he is the rock will discern its path by noticing its wise stability or its foolish collapse. 

Two other things are important about building.  One, really.  Who builds?

This telling selection from Genesis speaks of the intent of the people of the ‘world’ proposing to build a tower to the heavens – a ziggurat, a place to worship themselves!  

Genesis 11:4f             Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.

Genesis 11:8             So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

Which in turn contrasts with God building the house.  Note, too, that it’s the ones who build for themselves who reject the very stone that becomes the cornerstone.  

Psalm 118:22f             The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

Psalm 127:1f             Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Where do yo find yourself mirrored back in these passages?

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