Why do you keep calling me “Lord, Lord”—and you’re not doing the things that I say?
Everyone who comes to me and listens to the things that I say and puts them into practice—I will point out to you who that person is like: that person is like someone building a house to live in who dug deep down and laid a foundation on rock. Then a flash flood came along and the river crashed up against that house, but it was not able to shake it because it was well constructed.
But the person who hears and does not put into practice is like a person who built a house on the surface of the ground, without a foundation, and the river crashed up against it, and it collapsed immediately, and the ruin of that house was massive.Luke 6:46–49
In this story Jesus makes an accusation and gives a warning. The people he is accusing and warning are not the people who pay him no attention. Rather, they are precisely the people who come to him, hear what he says, and call him “Lord.”
They do not just call him “Lord”: they call him “Lord, Lord.” When he repeats the word, we may already sense that trouble is coming. By repeating “Lord,” he signals that he finds the greeting empty. He is questioning it, rejecting it, throwing it back at the ones who say it. He is throwing it back at them because they do not mean it.
They say “Lord” a lot, perhaps, but the more they say it, the less they mean it! They no doubt have seen themselves as true Lordists. Perhaps they have called their movement Lordism and founded a National Association of Lordists. Perhaps they have even put a lot of effort into trying to get other people to join the Association of Lordists, or at least (almost as good) disparaging and denouncing those who have not joined, including others who are following Jesus and listening to him but hearing him differently.
Perhaps they have a favorite interpreter of Jesus and his works, who might even have been one of the best interpreters of Jesus. They loved listening to this interpreter of Jesus so much! Or at least to their favorite interpreters of that interpreter of Jesus, or maybe their favorite interpreter of the various interpreters of that interpreter of Jesus.
But the interpretations they like listening to have ended up convincing them that what Jesus did mattered a lot more than the things that he said. They believe that the best interpretation of the interpretations of one good interpretation of what Jesus did mean that it isn’t important to listen to the things that Jesus himself said. They might even have come to believe that if you were focusing on the things that Jesus said, that would mean that you were not really understanding and appreciating the things that Jesus did, which would mean that you were not a very good Lordist, and maybe not even a Lordist at all. You might be in worse shape than an actual non-Lordist!
What if Jesus were to have said that Jesus-following is like a house that you live in? And what if he said that you had to build that house, and build it well? And what if he said further that before you got too elaborate about the construction of the rooms and the roof and whatnot, you had better start by digging? And not digging just a little bit, but digging a lot, until you get down through all the dirt to the rock? And then you lay a foundation on the rock.
Well, that might be enough to make a good Lordist nervous. Sounds like a lot of work. And don’t our favorite interpreters of the old interpreters of the one best interpreter of Jesus tell us that working is not for us? That we had better not start thinking that we need to do any work, because Jesus himself did the work?
Well, but maybe it will turn out OK. Maybe Jesus in his story of digging deep and laying a foundation will say: “And that foundation, my dear Lordists, is believing what my number 1 interpreter is going to say about my own work, which is not this healing that I’m doing now, and certainly not this teaching, but a couple of big things that I’ll do later.” Then, despite the potentially misleading lead-in, Jesus would be saying the right thing after all, and we could all relax.
But what if, when Jesus talked about Jesus-following as being like a house that you live in, and suggesting that you needed to put some work into building that house, it turned out that this wasn’t just a slightly inept metaphor, but it was a precisely chosen metaphor? What if Jesus said, as explicitly as possible, that the foundation of this house of Jesus-following is not believing what his best interpreter would say within a few decades about the things that Jesus did? What if Jesus said that the foundation is putting into practice the things that Jesus said?
And what if Jesus went on to suggest that if you have built a big lovely house, with lots of rooms and furnishings and decorations, and have spent years inviting other people to come live in that house with you, but you just built it on the ground without first digging down and laying a foundation on the rock of obedience-to-all-the-things-that-Jesus-said, that house is worthless, because when the flash flood comes, it will just collapse in a spectacular crash?
Well, that would just go to show that your favorite interpreter of the interpreters of the best interpreter of Jesus is right when he says that you needn’t listen too closely to Jesus himself, because while of course everything that Jesus said was true and good and—most importantly—contained absolutely no mistakes whatsoever (a curse on anyone who thinks there might be mistakes in what Jesus said!), Jesus, as it turns out, was not talking to you!
Jesus was talking to someone else, just sort of filling the time up with some lovely saying, to other people, people back then in that moment in time. He was perhaps warming them up by riffing on themes from the Bible they already had back then, which had no mistakes in it whatsoever—zero mistakes!—but which for our purposes now would be replaced—you know what I mean, not replaced, but replaced—by the writings of his one best interpreter who would come along later to explain (according to our explanation of the explainer’s explainers) what Jesus did so exhaustively as to render irrelevant (though of course not mistaken!) the things that Jesus said.
This new Bible, at once larger and smaller, would be the definitive guide for Lordists. Or at least the interpretations of that guide by the approved Lordist interpreters would be. We would of course honor the Old Testament, with its wonderful (and error-free!) books of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and James, but we would furnish our house and live in it according to the New Testament, appropriately interpreted by the best Lordist interpreters.
We have seen the magnificent, foundationless house of the Lordists, and many of us spent many years living in it, and even inviting others to come live in it.
We have seen the flash flood.
We have seen the river crash against the house—while its residents opened the windows and doors and rejoiced to let the river run through.
And we have seen and heard and felt the seismic tremors from the collapse of the house.
But now in addition—what a surprise ending! did even Jesus see this coming?—we see the Lordists who welcomed the flood still living in the formerly magnificent foundationless house, now a ruin. They do not even see, many of them, that it has collapsed. They are still splashing and snorkeling and rafting in that roiling river, joyfully (or angrily?—hard to read those zombie facial expressions) oblivious to the fact that they have drowned. They? Wait? Or is that us?