SET 1: Season of Lent
Jesus promoted transition from the ritualistic religion to a service oriented one. He wanted that the Christians transform what they hear from the Bible to the service of fellow humans as representatives of Jesus. Non-Christians should recognize his disciples from the fruits of their Christian living. Jesus will punish those who pretend as Jesus’ disciples and misguide others. Christians should be cautious of such false religious leaders. We must build our faith on Christ the rock, so we will stay firm with him during the temptations or the tribulations that challenge our faithfulness to God.
(Matthew 7:15) Beware of false prophets: they come to you disguised as sheep, but inside they are wild wolves. (16) You will recognize them by their fruits. Do you ever pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? (17) A good tree always produces good fruit; a bad tree produces bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor a bad tree good fruit. (19) Any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. (20) So you will know them by their fruit.
(21) Not everyone who says to me: Lord! Lord! will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not speak in your name? Did we not cast out devils and perform many miracles in your name?” (23) Then I will tell them openly: I have never known you; get away from me, you workers of evil!
(24) So, then, anyone who hears these words of mine and acts accordingly is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. (25) The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew against that house, but it did not collapse because it was built on rock. (26) But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. (27) The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew against that house, and down it went with a mighty crash.
This gospel passage is the concluding part of the famous “Sermon on the Mount” Matthew gives in chapters five to seven. Jesus intended this as a discourse on how his disciples should live until his second coming to judge the world.
(15) Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.
The prophets were God’s spokespersons. Since this is a privileged position, some people pretended as prophets in the Biblical times. Jesus warned his disciples to be cautious of them because they will misguide people and lead them to eternal destruction. In the modern times also, there are people with no apostolic succession who start churches of their own and convert people, including Catholics, to their sheepfold promising eternal reward through the effortless way. Many of these evangelists do this for their own selfish motives.
Jesus warned, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders so great that they would deceive even God’s chosen people, if that were possible.” (Matthew 24:24). God warned Israelites through Moses: “If it happens that a prophet or an interpreter of dreams arises in your midst and promises a sign or a portent, and if this sign or portent really comes to fulfillment, and he takes advantage of them to say: ‘Come, let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known), ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not pay attention to the words of this prophet or interpreter of dreams; because the LORD, your God, is testing you to find out if you really love him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13: 2-4). So, God allows false prophets to test our fidelity to Him.
Israelites nicknamed false prophets and false rulers as wolves. Ezekiel spoke of bad rulers of Jerusalem: “The officials of the city are like wolves who tear their prey, shedding blood and killing people for unjust gain.” (Ezekiel 22:27). Jesus sent his disciples “like sheep in the midst of wolves.” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus used the adjective “ravenous” to emphasize the seriousness of the damage that these “wolves” cause.
It was difficult to distinguish false prophets from the true ones. The false prophets used the same attire and language of the genuine prophets. But people could distinguish them from their attitude and goals in their ministry. Jesus warned on such “wolves” that approach the sheep covered with sheepskin to misguide and destroy them.
There were people who abused the office of prophets during the early church. They were doing offensive and punishable actions in front of God. In the modern times, there are false prophets within the church and outside who appear as sincere and mislead the faithful.
(16) By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
By their fruits
Christ will judge his followers based on their actions. The yardstick that Jesus gives for the last judgement is a typical example of how Jesus will categorize us. “Truly, I say to you: whenever you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40). “Truly, I say to you: whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And they will go into eternal punishment, but the just to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:45-46).
People will plant the seeds or stems of vegetations that bear good fruit. So also, God will select to his second Garden of Eden, people who bear good fruit.
Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes? …
Excellent results come from righteous people and bad from immoral people.
(17) Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
God allows both good and bad to live together until harvest (Matthew 13:24-30). Since God allows time for repentance and conversion of heart, there might not be an immediate punishment for the evildoers. The higher you are in rank as a Christian, the more your responsibility to yield good Christian outcome.
(20) So by their fruits you will know them.
People will distinguish false prophets from good ones by their interests and intentions. The false teachers seek personal gain, popularity, and share their personal views. We should not follow them.
(21) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
Repetition of the word ‘Lord’ shows the zeal of the disciple or his intimacy with Jesus.
Who does the will of my Father.
Jesus came to this world to do the will of his Father. A lip-service without charity, worship without mercy are unacceptable to God. A Christian or Christ’s representative must do the will of the Father.
(22) Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’
Jesus would surprise even many of those who served him by his rejection of them at his second coming. Christ highlights here three of the major services of the early Christianity: the prophets, the healers, and the miracle workers who did their service in Jesus’ name. He will measure them based on their intention: whether they did it for their self-glory or to accomplish the will of the Father. A Christian shall not take credit for his excellent works because the credit belongs to God who will reward the disciple who worked on behalf of Jesus.
(23) Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’
I never knew you.
At the second coming of Christ, these “false” prophets, healers, and miracle workers would claim intimacy with Jesus. But Jesus would deny them because they were not working for him, but for their self-glory.
Depart from me.
Matthew 25:41 also uses the same phrase for those whom the angels will gather at the left side of the Lord at the last judgement. The selected, but unfaithful servants of the Lord, will also receive the same punishment as of those who did not make use of the opportunities to help the less fortunate in the society.
Jesus even would call false prophets as “evildoers” because their intentions were selfish, and they were heading in the wrong direction.
(24) Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
Listening to Jesus’ message is not enough. The wisdom of a true Christian is that he acts on the words of Jesus. He will consider those who do only lip-service as foolish persons.
(25) The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
Challenges for a Christian shall come from all directions: rain coming from above, floods from below, winds sweeping across, and bang from every direction.
Solidly on rock
Rock stands for firmness in Jesus and his teachings. Such disciples will hold on to their faith amid all persecutions or attractions of worldly happiness.
(26) And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
Like a fool
A listener without action on the Word of God is a fool. He will be equivalent to an imprudent man who displays himself as a Christian, but he is not a true faithful.
(27) The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.
Jesus, who had experience as a builder, knew very well what would happen to a house built without a solid foundation. Jesus compares this to a disciple who has no strong spiritual foundation. His faith will collapse when he faces challenges in life.