So anyone who hears these words of mine and does them, I will compare to a wise man who built his house on a rock. The rain fell, the streams flooded, the winds blew, and they touched that house, but it did not fall, because it was founded upon the rock. But whoever hears these words of mine but does not do them, I will compare to a foolish man who built his house upon sand. The rain fell, the streams flooded, the winds blew, and they encountered that house. It fell, and its collapse was great.
–Matthew 7:24-27 (DHE Gospels)
I was reading the various portions of the Bible related to Torah Portion Yitro on Shabbos and the recommended reading (from First Fruits of Zion/FFOZ) for the Gospels was Matthew 7:1 – 8:1. I’m not going to copy and paste or manually type the text for such a large portion of scripture into this “meditation” (you can click the link I provided and read it yourself), but I must say that as I finished reading it, I realized that this section of Matthew could actually be expressing a single thought. If you haven’t done so already, please read that particular part of scripture now and then continue reading here. It’s OK. I’ll wait.
Do you see what I mean? Look at what the Master is teaching.
Jesus starts off by telling his disciples and anyone else who was listening how to do tzedakah or charity, mainly in secret rather than making a big show of it for others to see. He delivers the same message about praying and gives us a simple model of a prayer. Again, he says the same thing about how to fast and reminds us of where our true wealth lies. Speaking of treasure, he defines the relationship between a believer and money and also how we need to trust God for our needs. Interestingly enough, in the DHE translation, Matthew 6:33 goes like this:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his tzedakah, and all these things will be added to you.
Tzedakah isn’t just giving to charity. The underlying sense of this Hebrew word communicates performing acts of justice and righteousness…in other words, doing good for other, which is much more than just donating money or goods.
He instructs his audience not to judge and connects how we judge others with how we’ll be judged by God (and that should be a frightening thought to many of you…it is to me). He talks about answers to prayer and trusting God. He gives us a basic rule about how to treat others using how we treat ourselves as a guide. He warns us about false prophets, and I’m sure you realize there are plenty of those in the Christian world today. Then he says something amazing and more than a little terrifying:
Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather, the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. It will be that on that day many will say to me, “My master, my master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me, workers of evil!”
–Matthew 7:21-23 (DHE Gospels)
Recently, someone commented on one of my blog posts that, “Christianity is not about right belief or right thinking or even right behavior; Christianity is about right relationship…” I’m sure the people who the Master says he will send away will also think they had a “right relationship” with Jesus and will be absolutely shocked to find that they were wrong. But what happened? I mean, these people, according to what Jesus says, were prophesying in Christ’s name, driving out demon’s in his name, and performing many wonders in his name. How could they do all that and still have the Master say to them, “I have never known you. Depart from me, workers of evil?”
I’ve had several conversations with my Pastor and one of the things we’ve discussed is salvation, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. What may surprise you is that he believes that not everybody in the church should be considered a Christian or “saved.” It makes more than simply raising your hand when asked if you will allow Jesus to enter your life or answering an altar call to really make you a disciple of the Master. If your life isn’t transformed as a result, then nothing has changed and you are still in exactly the same state you were in before you “accepted Christ” as your Lord.
So if just saying “yes” and just “believing” doesn’t do it, what does transform you? Actually, the better question is, how do you know you’re transformed?
Go and read Matthew 7:1 – 8:1 again. Jesus is describing a transformed life or maybe it’s more accurate to say, a “transformational life.” We don’t just change once and then get stuck, like flipping a light switch from off to on. We are, or should be, constantly changing and growing in wisdom and in the Spirit.
In Matthew 7:15-20, the Master teaches on how to spot a false prophet by the fruits he produces, but I think his advice works in spotting a false believer too, even if we happen to be one of them. Remember, some believers are going to be surprised and dismayed that the Master sends them away and even calls them (us?) “workers of evil.” I think that even though some people will be capable of performing wonderful acts of goodness, kindness, generosity, and even some miracles, that they won’t really have a living, growing, connected relationship with God. Maybe they think that “doing” is all that’s required or more than likely, maybe they’ll believe that believing is enough.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
–James 2:18-20 (ESV)
It looks like a transformational life requires both faith and “walking the walk.”
A number of changes have been going on with me lately and I can only conclude that God is trying to get my attention. He’s got it. I realize that my own life hasn’t really been very “transformational.” Like I said, I don’t think such a life is either there or not all the time like an on/off switch, but I do think, to extend the metaphor, that my light has been pretty dim, or at least not as bright as God intends it to be. I’m not going to outline some multi-step plan of mine for letting my light shine brighter, but within my thoughts and feelings and actions, I am starting some changes.
I haven’t set much time aside for prayer, which I think makes a difference. Also, I haven’t been as dedicated to acts of tzedakah as I know I should be. If there is something transformational going on with me, it needs to be more visible, especially to me.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski has this to say on such a life.
“Master of the world, Who reigned before anything was created.”
The prayer Adon Olam is the opening prayer of the morning service; some congregations also recite it at the close of the evening service. It is also included in the extended version of the prayer upon retiring.
Adon Olam’s being both the opening and closing prayer is similar to the practice of beginning the reading of Genesis on Simchas Torah immediately after concluding the last chapter of Deuteronomy. There, we indicate that Torah is infinite; like a circle, it has no beginning or end. So it is with prayer, which represents our relationship with God. Since God is infinite, we never reach a finite goal in relating to Him.
Indeed, the cyclical natures of prayer and Torah not only indicate that there is no end, but also that there is no beginning. Secular studies have levels of graduation which indicate that one has completed a certain level. In Torah studies, we do not complete anything. Indeed, each volume of the Talmud begins with page two rather than page one, to teach us that we have not even begun, let alone ever finish.
Growth in spirituality has no limits. The symbolism in the cyclical format of Torah and prayer is that we cannot say that we have even reached the halfway mark in spiritual growth, much less the end. This realization should excite us, not depress us, because our potential is infinite.
Today I shall…
try to understand that regardless of how much I think I may have advanced in spirituality, I have hardly even made a beginning.
There may be a very fine line between being a sheep or a goat and I don’t want to find myself on the wrong side of the line. It’s not that I’m just being selfish (but yes, I am thinking about myself), but that I really do what to serve God and live out my high-sounding ideals. I’ve said that a life of faith isn’t like a light switch but there definitely is an “on” and an “off” involved. Ultimately, like sheep and goats, you are either one or the other, you are either a disciple of the Master in a lived, experiential way, or you are a poser.
To borrow a line from Rabbi Twerski, today I shall…
…start to live a more transformational life and bear the type of fruit that gives evidence to me and to the world that I am following in the footsteps of my Master.