top of page

Old Testament – Proverbs 8:1-11; 32-36

New Testament - Matthew 7:21-29


The Fatal Error 


INTRODUCTION: So my alma mater, Albion College, is like a lot of other liberal arts colleges, I suppose. Start digging around in the list of alumni, and you’ll find such small schools actually have some pretty famous graduates.


Admittedly, the list of famous people who have graduated from the numerous small liberal arts colleges scattered around the country may not be as long as, say, the list of prominent graduates from Harvard or Yale, or even some big state school like UT in Knoxville, but places like Albion have their own rich history.


And one such famous graduate from Albion is Anna Howard Shaw. A vocal leader in the women’s suffrage movement, Anna Shaw was also one of the first women in the United States to be ordained as a Methodist minister. And then, on top of all that, she later went to medical school at Boston University to become a doctor  - where she was the only female in her graduating class in 1886. 


More recently, though, Albion can lay claim to Jon Scieszka as a graduate. An acclaimed writer of children’s books, Scieszka’s books have become immediate classics. And one of his better known books, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, is a parody of that classic tale. Told from the perspective of the wolf, the whole affair, at least according to the wolf, is really just a big misunderstanding. In fact, as the wolf says at the end while being hauled off to jail by the police: “The real story. I was framed.” 


True to the original tale, though, the first two pigs end up losing their lives to the wolf because they have built their houses out of straw and sticks respectively. The life of the third pig, of course, is spared because he is smart and builds his house out of brick, which in turn, allows the third pig’s house to remain standing during what the wolf claims was really nothing more than a sneezing fit.


And so it goes even in Scieszka’s funny retelling of that classic tale. Two pigs lose their lives because of poorly constructed homes, while the third gets to carry on with life because he built his house properly and sturdily.        


ONE: Well, Jesus, of course, also liked to tell his own humorous little story about houses and the problems that can result when they’re not constructed with some thought and planning.


“A man went out to build a house,” says Jesus, “and having started it on solid rock it was sturdy and strong; and therefore, it was able to withstand the driving wind and pouring rains when they came.”


“But the second builder,” continues Jesus, “well he wasn’t quite as sharp as the first one. For he started his house on sand, so when the wind and the rushing waters came the whole thing got washed away in a flood.” 


You see, the countryside in Palestine, then as well as now, is full of seasonal streams known as “wadis.” If you’ve ever traveled out to the southwest, you may have seen the same thing where such seasonal gullies are known as arroyos. You see, during the spring, the heavy rains produce enough runoff to fill wadis with water. Sometimes they run for days, other times they might run but for a few hours. After that, they return to being dry and empty.     


And so it turns out the second builder in Jesus’ story has, for some inexplicable reason, decided to build his house right in the middle of such a sandy wadi. Sure, it’s a dry stream when he builds his house, but eventually it’s going to be full of fast moving water! 


Years ago my Dad and I were fly fishing on the Hiwassee River. I still remember being told by the Ranger to get out of the water upon hearing the horn from the dam. Because shortly after the horn sounded, the flood gates of the dam would be opened, and, as the Ranger put it, “You don’t want to be in the river when that wall of water comes rolling down.” 


And sure enough, the Ranger was right. Everytime that horn went off, it wasn’t long before a wall of water came crashing down the river. I was, needless to say, thankful for the Ranger’s guidance.  Well, wadis are no different. A heavy rain can turn one from a dry gully to a raging river in a matter of moments.


So Jesus’ tale is actually pretty humorous. After all, who would be so silly as to construct a house right smack dab in the middle of a wadi?  


TWO: Of course, we want to know who would be so foolish as to build a house in the middle of a wadi, and we don’t have to look very hard to find an answer, do we?


Yep, we get to wondering who could be so thick-headed as to do something like that and Jesus quickly informs us it’s those people who take the time to listen to his teachings, but then never get around to actually applying them to their lives. 


Remember, Jesus’ little parable about the two builders is his closing remarks to his Sermon on the Mount, which is full of all sorts of counsel for ethical living. That’s why Jesus can say in verse 24 of our reading for today: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man…”


And that’s also why he can make the rather tough statement in verse 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.”


You see, Jesus’ words are always to be more than simply heard. They are also to be performed. The wise builder in Jesus’ story then isn’t necessarily someone who’s got an IQ of 170, but rather the person who is willing to both hear Jesus’ teachings and then perform them in his or her life. 

The foolish builder, on the other hand, is the person who is willing to listen to Jesus’ teachings but then never does anything else. The first hears and does, while the second simply hears but never does. 


There is an old story about a group of rabbis sitting around debating which is the best spiritual path. Is it better to study the instructions found in the Torah as some liked to argue, or is it better to actually perform the instructions found in the Torah?


One rabbi, Rabbi Tarfon, replies: “Action is greater.” Rabbi Akiva, however, responds, “Study is greater.” After some discussion among the Rabbis as a whole, though, they conclude rather paradoxically, “Study is better than action, because study leads to action.”


Well, Jesus seems to be saying the same thing with his tale of the two house builders. One is foolish because, while he hears Jesus’ instruction, he fails to act on it. The wise builder, however, hears and then also applies Jesus’ teachings in his life.                


THREE:  The Buddhists like to tell the story of a young student named Tetsugen who wanted to raise enough funds to have 7,000 copies of the sacred sayings of Buddhism printed in Japanese since none existed at the time.  


So Tetsugen traveled all through Japan seeking funds and donors for his project. And while some people here and there gave very large sums, Tetsugen mostly collected a few dollars at a time until eventually, ten years after he started, he had finally raised enough money to bring his dream to reality.


But just as he was ready to start printing his 7,000 copies of the sacred sayings of Buddhism in Japanese, the River Uji overflowed after several days of rain leaving countless people without shelter and food. 


So rather than spend the money he had collected on his lifelong dream, Tetsugen decided to give it all away to help those who had been left destitute by the river’s rising.


Well, time passed and Tetsugen decided once again to try and raise the needed funds to make 7,000 copies of the sacred sayings for the people of Japan. So he set out on his travels a second time, and after several more years he had raised the needed funds yet one more time.


But then, just before going to print, an epidemic hit the land infecting an untold number of people. And so rather than run his 7,000 copies of the sacred sayings of Buddhism in Japanese, Tetsugen gave all the money he had  raised to help the people suffering from the epidemic.


Finally, a few years later, Tetsugen set out for a third time to raise the needed money to bring his dream to life. And about 25 years after he had first set out on his venture, Tetsugen actually accomplished his goal. He had 7,000 copies of the sacred sayings of Buddhism published.


And today, the printing block that produced the very first edition of the sacred sayings of Buddhism in Japanese is now on display in a monastery. And when showing the printing block to their children, the Japanese, in a great little move, reportedly like to say that Tetsugen actually ended up printing three editions of the sacred sayings.


And the first two editions, the two times he gave away all his raised funds, are far superior to the printed third one. The great Robert McAfee Brown once had another way of putting the matter when writing: “The fatal error is to read the Bible as a spectator rather than as a participant, to make the faulty assumption that we can sit in a box seat watching the drama when actually we are on the stage taking part in the drama.”   


CONCLUSION: And Jesus? Well, Jesus provides us with some pretty important guidelines for participating in the drama, right? 


Love people, instead of hate them. Forgive others, rather than seek revenge. Be humble, as opposed to haughty. Give, in place of getting. Welcome people, as opposed to excluding them. And be gracious, over and against being cruel. 


But that’s what wise people do, right? Yes, they hear Jesus’ teachings, but then they don’t stop there. For after hearing them, they then head off into the world to live them.   


And now to our God, to our Creator, Redeemer, and daily Sustainer, be our words of thanksgiving and praise; this day and forevermore. Amen!

bottom of page