Summary: Jesus uses Isaiah 28.14-18 and shows how he is the precious cornerstone foundation upon which to build a house of faith to withstand the storms.
Foundations – Luke 6.46-49
Of all the parables of Jesus this is the one that has probably been reduced the most to a children’s story – via the children’s chorus – the “wise/foolish man built his house upon…” you know the chorus and you have probably sung it many times. This is a short parable but as they say dynamite comes in small packages, and in context this parable has powerful theological meaning and implication for the Christian. In Matthew this parable comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount and here in Luke it comes at the end of the Sermon on the Plain – showing that for both Matthew and Luke the parable was selected for special prominence.
In Luke the issue is foundation verses no foundation. Whereas in Matthew it is the wise man or foolish man and we tend to remember Matthew’s account more than Luke’s. The parable uses a simple rhetorical structure with three basic themes:
Building a house
The storm/flood and its results
These three themes are followed first with a man who builds a house with a foundation and then with a man who builds a house without a foundation. This means that the storm and its effect on each of the houses is the climax of the parable. Unfortunately for many today the impact of this story is lost because we are rarely involved in the labour of building our own houses and the digging of foundations involves machinery and not physical labour. In this parable Jesus was evoking a powerful metaphor concerning the building of the spiritual house (temple of the Holy Spirit) in the life of a believer.
Let me read some verses to you from Isaiah 28.14-18. Here is the OT context of this parable of Christ Jesus. Isaiah had no confidence in the house the people of Israel had built (the agreement they had made with Egypt) and predicted a great storm was on its way (Assyria). That storm would destroy their building but in the future God would lay a new cornerstone in Zion that would be a sure foundation for a new building. The foundation would not be an ordinary rock but a gemstone. Over the intervening 600 years this text had become a physical stone in the second Temple in Jerusalem. On the Day of Atonement the high priest would enter the holy of Holies carrying a large pan of burning charcoal covered with incense. In the centre of the holy of holies there was as tone slightly elevated from the rest of the floor. On that stone he would “place the fire-pan.” The stone was called “the foundation.” No explanation is given as to why it was called “the foundation.” For the Jews of Christ’s day the Holy of Holies was thee most sacred spot on all the earth, and that stone was in “Zion” at the centre of the Temple complex. Therefore for the average Jew of the day of Christ – the Temple was built on that foundation stone – into such a world, into such an understanding, Christ Jesus stands up and offers a new understanding that the words of Isaiah (concerning this precious foundation stone) were fulfilled in him, in obedience to his words. “To hear and do my words,” said Jesus, was to build on “the foundation” that Isaiah promised. Jesus was saying “I am the foundation stone, build on me and my words and you will not be shaken.” Can you see how this parable would have an immense impact on those listening that day to Jesus?
At the time of Christ, and to some extent it is still the same today, houses in Palestine were only built during the summer months before the rains came. It is easy to imagine that someone would think that the clay, baked hard by the summer sun, would be a sufficient foundation to build the house. However, winter comes and the rains get heavier and heavier and what was once rock hard clay now begins to soften and move as a consequence of the torrential rain. The roof sags and the walls begin to bulge and eventually the house collapses. In October 1991 the Jerusalem Post reported how an apartment block collapsed in one of the suburbs of Jerusalem because the building had no solid foundations. We see it here in our own country at times – not so long ago in Enniskillen luxury apartments built on the edge of the Erne started to sag and massive cracks appeared in the walls and all because the foundations were not sufficient to support the structure. In fact when we moved into the rectory several of the houses around us had to have their porches supported and piled to support them. So, even today, such events happen.