A Christian's Relationships and Commitments and the Importance of Good Works

• Previous  • Sermon on the Mount Lessons List

Beloved Heavenly Father.
In the Sermon on the Mount Your Son has laid out for us the path to heaven.  It is a path that demands a holiness of heart and a firmness of character.  It is not an easy path but it is a glorious path and its destination is our true home.  To tread this path without stumbling requires both spiritual abandonment and intellectual knowledge on the part of the faith filled disciple, for we must not only trust completely on Christ to lead the way but we must understand where we are going and how we must get there by living and understanding the Sacraments and teachings of our Catholic faith.  Guide us now, most beloved Holy Spirit, as we study our last lesson on the Sermon on the Mount; we pray in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

"Love without truth is blind'truth without love is empty."  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, April 2006, from the Mass prior to the concave which elected him Pope Benedict XVI

"But the LORD's kindness [hesed = faithful covenant-love] is forever, toward the faithful from age to age.  He favors the children's children of those who keep his covenant, who take care to fulfill its precepts." Psalms 103:17-18

The connecting thread that runs through chapter 7 of Matthew's Gospel is that of relationships.  Jesus has taught on a Christian's character, on a Christian's influence in the faith community and in the world, on the responsibility of the Christian to lead a righteous, holy life and on the destructive force of ambition and self-glorification.  Now He will concentrate, in the conclusion of His homily, on a Christian's relationships and commitments:

  1. Matthew 7:1-5: to our brothers and sisters in the faith community in whom we may discern a "splinter", and to whom we have a responsibility to help and not to judge.
  2. Matthew 7:6: to a group of people designated as "dogs" and "pigs", who in their animal nature refuse a share in the Kingdom.
  3. Matthew 7:7-11: to our heavenly Father to whom we are commanded to pray in confidence.
  4. Matthew 7:12: to everyone in general with the "golden rule" as the guide in our attitude and behavior towards them.
  5. Matthew 7:13-14: in our relationship with our fellow pilgrims who in this earthly exile enter with us through the Narrow Gate and walk the more difficult and less traveled Narrow Path to heaven.
  6. Matthew 7:15-20: in our encounter with false prophets who we are to recognize and avoid.
  7. Matthew 7:21-27: and finally in our relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior, whose teaching we are commanded to faithfully commit ourselves and to unswervingly obey.

Please read Matthew 7:1-6: Our attitude to our brothers and sisters.
Although Jesus has called us to a standard of "perfection" in Matthew 5:48, "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect", He understands that this is not a perfection that we are likely to achieve in this life, nor does He anticipate that the Christian community as a whole will be perfect.  The paradox of the Church is that she is the sinless Bride of Christ who is full of sinners.  He knows that within each individual faith community and within each Christian family there will at times be disharmony and disunity.  In this passage Jesus directs how Christians should behave in the community toward a fellow Christian who has fallen into error and toward others who have fallen into sin.  In cases of disharmony Jesus forbids two actions and encourages a third in how Christians act and react to other Christians and to "our neighbor"'who is now identified in the New Covenant as everyone with whom we come into contact in our walk of faith:

Question: In cases of disharmony Jesus forbids two actions and encourages a third in how Christians act and react to other Christians and to their neighbors outside the faith community.  What are they?

  1. The Christian shall not judge the sinner [7:1]
  2. The Christian shall not be a hypocrite [7:5]
  3. The Christian shall be a brother/sister to fellow Christians [7:3, 4,&5], and to his neighbor.

Note: the Greek word for brother or brother's in these three verses is the word adelphos, which means "from the womb."  This is the only word used for "brother" in the Greek New Testament; therefore, when certain of Jesus' kinsmen are referred to in the New Testament as "brothers" of the Lord it cannot be assumed the meaning is "blood-brothers" born from Mary.  In Hebrew and in Aramaic there was no distinction between kinsmen who were siblings or cousins or even "brothers" within the Covenant [see Matthew 12:46-49 and 13:56 and compare with Matthew 23:8; Acts 1:16; 2:29, 37; 21:17, 20; and 22:1 where the only word used is adelphos]; covenants create families and everyone within the covenant is a kinsman. When Scripture refers to the "brothers" of Jesus, the Church has always taught that these "brothers/adelphos are kinsmen who are either cousins or half-brothers/sisters.  [see NIV Concordance and Strong's Concordance].

Question: He commands us to "stop judging that you may not be judged"?  Remember the rule in correctly interpreting a Biblical passage: Scripture must be studied in light of other Scripture; interpretation must not conflict with or contradict other Bible passages nor can interpretation conflict with the doctrine of the Church passed down to us through the Apostles and interpreted by their successors, the Magisterium. What doesn't Jesus mean in this passage concerning judgment?

In this Corinthians passage Paul is addressing our responsibility to judge sins within the Covenant family.  

Question: What does Jesus teach on this subject in Matthew 18:15-20?  What steps are we to follow when a "brother" or "sister" has fallen into error?

  1. Go to the person within the community who is in error and tell him his fault.
  2. If he listens, be reconciled with him, but if he does not listen take others along and speak to him a second time so that you have witnesses to the discussion.
  3. If he refuses to listen or mend his ways take the problem to the Church, meaning first the priest or possibly the Bishop.
  4. If he refused to listen even to the Church then the person is to be considered outside the fellowship of the community.

In the 4th and final case, the Church may impose the redemptive judgment of excommunication.  To separate a covenant believer from the Sacraments is a last measure to attempt to bring that person back into communion with God and fellowship with his covenant brothers and sisters. 

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-3, St. Paul makes a similar demand for excommunication of an unrepentant sinful brother or sister and in his letter to the Church in Rome and in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica he warns the faithful concerning members of the community who have gone astray into false teaching or immoral behavior:

We are responsible for the conduct of those within the Church; those outside the Church are to be disciplined by God [1 Corinthians 5:13] and by the civil authority.  

Question: What is the significance of Matthew 18:18? Compare this verse to Matthew 16:19b.
Answer: With the exception of the plural form of the verbs "bind" and "loose", this passage is almost identical with Matthew 16:19b: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In the Matthew chapter 18 passage Jesus is giving the same authoritative power to bind and loose that he gave to Simon-Peter, the Vicar of His earthly Kingdom [see Isaiah 22:20-25], to the leadership of the New Covenant Church.  This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Greek word ekklesia, or the "called out ones" [k(q)ahal in Hebrew], which we translate into English as "the Church," only occurs in the Gospels in these two passages in Matthew 16:18 and in 18:17.  There are many examples in Jewish literature of this same binding and loosing imagery and in those cases the references are to the giving of authoritative teaching and the imposition of the ban of exile from the community [excommunication] or the lifting of such a ban.  Jesus will repeat the declaration of this power in John's Gospel in Resurrection Sunday to the Apostles assembled in the Upper Room in John 20:22-23.

Question: What then does Jesus mean when He tells us not to judge?  Do we or do we not have a duty to judge between right and wrong and between good and evil?
Answer: If we do not judge between what is good and what is evil how can we strive to "... be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" Matthew 5:48?  After all, isn't the search for holiness the primary purpose in our lives?  Perhaps the key word is "judge".  We are to assess sin and then critically examine the consequences of sin, but we are not to judge the person committing the sin.  That is a judgment reserved for God.  St Paul wrote to the Church in Rome and applied the teaching of Jesus in this passage in Romans 14:4: "Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant? Before his own master he stands or falls.  And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand."  The point is we can critically analyze and judge actions but we cannot judge hearts and motives'only God can judge the intent of a human heart.

Question: But if we do judge the behavior of a person, whether for proper or improper motives, what warning does Jesus give us?
Answer: If we judge a person we too will fall under judgment and be closely examined for the same sin in our own lives.  If we take on the responsibility of judge then we cannot plead ignorance if we fall into the same sin; in fact, we will be judged more harshly.  Jesus' command not to judge, therefore, is not a command to be ignorant or blind but a plea to be merciful because there for the grace of God we might also tread.  Father Luis de Leon writes in his commentary on the life of Job, "God measures out according as we measure out and forgives as we forgive, and comes to our rescue with the same tenderness as he sees us having toward others." [quoted from the Navarre Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, page 80].

Jesus is telling the Christian to be neither judge nor hypocrite and in verses 3-5 Jesus tells another little parable contrasting specks of dust with large wooden beams.  There is the saying that "it takes a thief to know a thief" and "there is no honor among thieves."  In other words, the sinner is the first to suspect another of the same sin. In this parable Jesus exposes human hypocrisy as the reason we should not judge others.  Not only are we not qualified to judge because we are fallible humans but because we are fallen humans.  It is our fallen nature and our concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, that disqualifies us.  In mercy and in humility we should help our brother or sister to remove the "speck" of sin from their lives and in gratitude look to our heavenly Father to forgive the log of sin in our lives. In St John Chrysostom's homily on this passage he writes: "Correct him but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines." And St. Josemaria Escriva wisely advises us "To criticize, to destroy, is not difficult; any unskilled laborer knows how to drive his pick into the noble and finely-hewed stone of a cathedral.  To construct: that is what requires the skill of a master." [The Way, page 456]. 

Then in Matthew 7:6 Jesus makes a strange comment about dogs and pigs.  There are, He tells us, people who behave like dogs and pigs.  The wild packs of dogs who roamed the trash dumps were despised as were the gentiles who lived such immoral lives, and so gentiles were usually given the label "dogs".  Pigs, of course, were "unclean" animals to the righteous Jew; pigs wallowed in filth like a sinner wallows in sin.  We are not to judge the intent of sinner's heart but we must not ignore their sins and faults when they act like dogs and pigs.  St. Peter, perhaps thinking of this passage in Matthew 7:6, would bring these two animals together in his letter to the universal Church in two proverbs in a teaching concerning those who turn away and abandon the teaching of Christ: "What is expressed in the true proverb has happened to them, 'The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the bathed sow returns to wallow in the mire.'" [2 Peter 2:22].  The point being that unbelievers, who reject the gift of rebirth and eternal life and possess the physical animal life instead of the spiritual life, will return to their old sinful and immoral habits and should therefore be avoided.

Question: But what does Jesus mean when He tells the Christian (1) not to give what is holy to dogs and (2) not to throw our pearls before swine?  Hint: what is "holy food" and to what does Jesus compare a pearl in Matthew 13:45-46?

  1. "Holy food" to the Old Covenant people was food offered in sacrifice to Yahweh that the faithful or the priests were permitted to eat.  With the exception of a holocaust or whole burnt offering, all the sacrifices were eaten either by the priests and their families or by the covenant community as in the case of the Passover sacrifice and the Toda sacrifices.  A member of the covenant would never give such food, even the scraps, to the unclean dogs.  The Church fathers taught in this passage "that which is holy" referred to the Eucharist and that the unbeliever, not discerning the nature of the sacrament as the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ would distain the holy gift and therefore should not be allowed to partake of the sacrament.  The Didache adopts this interpretation: "Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, but those baptized into the name of the Lord; this too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: 'Give not that which is holy to the dogs.'" [The Didache, 9.5]          
  2. Nor would any sensible person give pearls to pigs. Pigs, not appreciating their value, would probably destroy the pearls and might even in their wrath assault the giver. The pearls may be linked to Jesus' later parable of the "Pearl of great value" in Matthew 13:46 in which the pearl is the Kingdom of Heaven or by extension, the Gospel message of salvation.  But we are commanded to actively and indiscriminately share the message of salvation with unbelievers so Jesus could not be telling us not to waste the Gospel on sinners.  But perhaps the "swine" aren't simply the sinners or unbelievers but those who have persistently and belligerently rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation, preferring to remain "unclean" like swine and dogs'the Christian apostates of St. Peter's teaching in 2 Peter 2:22 [see quotation above]. 

Question: Later Jesus would send these same disciples out on their first mission to share the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  What are His instructions to them concerning the rejection of the Gospel message and what bearing might that instruction have on this passage in Matthew chapter 7? Please read Matthew 10:12-14.
Answer: Later when Jesus would send the disciples on their first missionary journey He would instruct them in Matthew 10:12-14 "As you enter a house, wish it peace.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.  Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words'go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet."  Whenever a covenant believer crossed the boundary between gentile territory and the Holy Land he was to shake the contaminated dust of the gentile pagans from his feet.  In Matthew 10:12-14 Jesus was telling His disciples for those who reject the Gospel message, to do the same'shake their dust off your feet for they have rejected the holy gift of salvation.  St. Paul also followed this rule in his missionary work.  On his first missionary expedition with his fellow disciple Barnabas, Paul and Barnabas took the Gospel message to the Jews in the Synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia, which is today located in Turkey.  This Greek culture city is not the same Antioch which was home to the important Christian community of Antioch, Syria; a community which was founded by Christians who left Jerusalem after Stephen's martyrdom, which was Pastored by St. Peter for 7 years before his founding of the Church in Rome, and which sent Paul and Barnabas on their 3 missionary expeditions.  When the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia rejected the Gospel message and later incited the whole city to forcefully drive them out, Paul and Barnabas "shook the dust off their feet against them" and traveled on to the next city [see Acts 13:13-45].  Perhaps the "dogs" and "swine" in this passage in Matthew chapter 7 are those like the people of Antioch who have a fierce contempt for the Gospel, and for those who persist in anger and unbelief Jesus is saying, do not strive to continue sharing the good news of salvation but turn and walk away.  

Please read Matthew 7:7-12: Jesus teaches about the effectiveness of our prayers to the Father and our obligations to others:
It is natural that Jesus should move in His homily from the relationship of the Christian with brothers and sisters within the faith community and the relationship with others to the relationship of the Christian with God the Father.  He wants us to understand that living our Christian duty of righteous behavior to others is much too difficult for us without the divine grace of our heavenly Father. Addressing the effectiveness of prayer to the Father Jesus does not put any restrictions on prayer.  St. Jerome commenting on this passage notes: "It is written, to everyone who asks it will be given; so, if it is not given to you, it is not given to you because you do not ask; so, ask and you will receive" [Jerome, Commentary of Matthew, 7].  Even though prayer is infallible, we are not infallible and sometimes the answer to our prayers is "no" or "be patient" because:

  1. our personal dispositions are not righteous, or
  2. what we have asked for is not a righteous request, or
  3. because now is not the time for us to receive such a petition.

Jesus has already warned us against hypocrisy in prayer and has already given us His own model prayer in the Lord's Prayer.  Now He encourages us to pray by giving us some commands and some very loving promises.

Question: In this passage Jesus gives 3 direct commands in connection to how we should pray; what are they?
Answer: Ask, seek, and knock.

Question: What are the 3 promises we are to expect if we follow these commands?
Answer: The promise is expressed in three statements: "everyone who asks receives", "the one who seeks finds" and "to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."




"everyone who asks receives"


"the one who seeks finds"


"to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

Question: What door?  See Matthew 3:13-17 and Revelation 3:8, 20-21.
Answer: The door to heaven and eternal life which had not been opened until the coming of the Christ:

Question: Jesus illustrates His promise in another parable in Matthew 7:9-11 of a child coming to a father with a request, something with which everyone hearing the sermon can relate'everyone having been either a child or a parent themselves.  What are the contrasts in this parable?  What is the relationship between the bread and the stone and the fish and the snake?  Hint: the fish is a scaleless fish, a barbut.
Answer: The contrasts are between a stone and a round loaf of bread, between a snake and the scaleless Galilean fish called a barbut, and between the unrighteous father and the heavenly Father: 

Contrast of the parable

Loaf of bread


Scaleless Fish


Heavenly Father

Unrighteous father

The stone and the round loaf of bread'the smooth snake and the smooth fish, are somewhat similar to the other in shape or substance but one is obviously better then the other.  The point is even the unrighteous know the difference between what is good parenting and what is not good so can't you trust your Heavenly Father to give you the best gift when you pray, even if you don't know yourself which gift is best?  It is interesting that the force of this parable lies in the contrast rather than in the comparison between the Father who is God and the human father.  Jesus acknowledges that even the unrighteous can perform good acts when He make this statement: "If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him."

Question: Why does He call His listeners "wicked"?
Answer: It is because even when humans are doing good and following nobler instincts like good parenting, even then humans cannot escape the designation "wicked" because since the Fall of our original parents and our inherited tendency to sin, that is what we are in the family of Adam, the "wicked" who are lost in original sin and who have inherited the tendency to sin.  It is only when we are reborn as God's children that, through His sanctifying grace that we can live as "good", holy sons and daughters of God.

Question: How does Jesus sum up the teachings of the Law of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets'in other words, the core teaching of the entire content of Sacred Scripture as it addresses our obligation to others and the love we should show them in Matthew 7:12 [also see Luke 6:31]?
Answer: In this verse, which has come to be known as the "Golden Rule," Jesus sets the standard of behavior for Christians: "to do to others whatever you would have them do to you." Actually in the literal Greek this rule is prefaced by the Greek word oun, meaning "therefore", or "so", and indicating that this rule refers back to the previous verse and implies that if God the Father is good to all His children who seek Him in prayer, then His children must exhibit the same goodness to others.  It is a fact that God's own love is one of the "good things" He gives us through God the Holy Spirit in answer to our prayers.  Such love is certainly beyond human will or understanding and can only be lived in the Christian life through the divine grace of God our Father.

This rule, however, is not to be interpreted superficially as a "tit for tat" obligation in which we do a certain good to another with the expectation that they do the same or one better for us in return.  Instead the obligation is that we should do what is good unconditionally and in this way we serve God and bring His justice to our fellow man.  In Tobit 4:5-6 the saintly father Tobit instructs his son: "Through all your days, my son, keep the Lord in mind, and suppress every desire to sin or to break his commandments. Perform good works all the days of your life, and do not tread the paths of wrongdoing.  For if you are steadfast in your service, your good works will bring success, not only to you, but also to all those who live uprightly."

Question: How does Jesus define this rule of Christian conduct again in John 13:34-35?
Answer: John 13:34: "I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Note: Biblical critics point out that this "rule" of conduct is not unique to the New Testament and can be found in similar forms in the writings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, in the writings of the Greek Stoics, in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament [see 4:15], and even in the Jewish Talmud.  However, these similar rules are always expressed in the negative and not in the positive command used by Jesus in Matthew 7:12, which is more demanding; the other literary examples of this rule only require inaction where as Jesus' command is to actively "do good"  [i.e. Rabbi Hillel: What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else.  This is the whole law; all the rest is only commentary." Talmud: Shabbath 31a].

This final section of Jesus homily in verses 13-29 is composed of a series of antitheses which contrasts the choice between living in obedience to the teachings of Jesus and going one's own way:

Please read Matthew 7:13-14: The Narrow Gate and Narrow Path versus the Broad Path:
From the beginning of God's relationship with man, through the gift of free will, man has always had the choice between two paths: to travel the path of obedience to God or to go one's own way.  Psalms 1:6: "The LORD watches over the Way of the Just, but the Way of the wicked leads to ruin."  In fact, in the early Church, before the name "Christian" was applied to believers at the Church of Antioch in Syria, the followers of Jesus were referred to as the followers of "The Way" [see the Didache, article 1].

In this teaching there are 3 definite, inescapable choices each of us must make.  The choice between:

Question: What key word is given as a command as well as an invitation?
Answer: "Enter!"

Question: Who or what is the gate and the path [or way]?  See John 10:7-9 and John 14:6.
Answer: Jesus the Messiah ["the Christ" from the Greek].

Question: How "narrow" is the gate that leads to the narrow, less traveled path?  See Matthew 19:24 [also found in Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25].  What does Jesus tell us about this narrow door in Luke 13:24?
Answer: For some of us it can be as narrow as the eye of a needle!  In Luke 13:24 Jesus says: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough."  We cannot force our way into heaven for Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me" John 14:6.

Question: What contrast is Jesus making in this passage?  How does free will enter in to our decision?  What is the inescapable choice each of us must make?
Answer: Everyone must choose between two paths in life; the choice is entirely ours.  The wide path is the way of sin.  It seems appealing at first and calls for no standard of conduct.  It is the easier, and therefore the more traveled path, but it leads to eternal punishment.  The other choice is the narrow gate and a less traveled, harder path, but this path leads to eternal salvation. 

Question: What makes the less traveled, narrow path harder?  What is the faithful Christian who chooses this path carrying across the threshold of the Narrow Gate?  See Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21; Luke 9:23; and 14:27.
Answer: He carries the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth.

Question: What is it that the righteous Christian leaves behind before traveling the more difficult terrain of the Narrow Path? What is it you won't need or won't be helpful to you on this lifetime faith journey?
Answer: When one travels a difficult path it is necessary to divest oneself of all unessential baggage.  In this case divest yourself of materialism, pride, self-centeredness and hypocrisy.

The metaphor of the two paths is also found in the Didache in Articles 1-6.  Notice the references to Scripture passages as you read these instructions from the first catechism:

Please read Matthew 7:15-20: The False Prophet versus the True Disciple
False prophets pose a treat through their false teachings which can distort the true teaching of the message of the Gospel of salvation and make it difficult to find the entrance to the narrow gate.  Therefore, it is logical that Jesus should warn the faithful about the danger of believing false prophets immediately following His teaching about the two gates, ways and destinations.  False prophets are dangerous because they are deceptive.  Posing as legitimate prophets and teachers they are harder to detect than the "dogs" and "pigs" of verse 6 who are outwardly hostile to the message of salvation. The false prophet puts on the guise of the righteous but is in fact a "wolf" with an agenda among the sheep of the Shepherd.  In the Old Testament God's prophet Jeremiah warned the Covenant people of the dangers of false prophets who lead the people astray.  Please read Jeremiah 23:9-40.

Question: According to Jeremiah what are the characteristics of a false prophet?

  1. Their impiety led the people astray
  2. They fill the people with vain hopes
  3. They lie to the people speaking their own visions not from God

St. Jerome identified false prophets in the New Covenant Church as heretics within the ranks of the faithful who appear pious but who in fact do not teach Jesus' doctrine and instead have their own peculiar doctrine influenced by the world and not faithful to the teachings of Christ [Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 7].  St. John Chrysostom identified the false prophet as anyone who appears to be virtuous but who is acting a part to lead the righteous astray. [St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew].

In this passage the contrast between the false and genuine prophets is also a contrast between what one says and what one does.

Question: Who then is the genuine Prophet?  See Deuteronomy 18:21-22; Matthew 10:41 and 23:34.
Answer: A genuine prophet is a righteous Christian disciple who speaks the truth in the name of Jesus when he proclaims the Gospel and is willing to endure suffering and to even give up his life in defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Question: How does Jesus use animals to characterize the false prophet from the genuine Christian prophet?
Answer: The false prophet comes as a wolf in sheep's clothing. He looks like a "sheep"/faithful believer but in his heart he is a wolf who is not obedient to the teachings of Jesus and supports his own interpretation of the Gospel.  He is a liar who charms by his false display of piety while pursuing his own selfish ends. In Matthew 24:4 Jesus warns the Church "Take care that no one deceives you, because many will come using my name and saying, I am the Christ,' and they will deceive many."

Question: Who was it who was admitted into Jesus' inner circle who was such a false prophet?
Answer: Judas Iscariot. 

Question: How are we to distinguish the false prophet from the genuine Christian?
Answer: They are distinguished by the "fruits" or works they produce.

Question: Jesus makes a series of contrasts between the false prophet and true disciple concerning the "fruit" their bear; what are these contrasts?

True Prophet/disciple



Thorn bushes



Good tree/Good fruit

Rotten tree/Rotten fruit

Question: What is the contrast between these 3 metaphors?
Answer: Grapes, figs and good fruit are all good for us as physical nourishment and will produce a healthy body just as the faithful teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will produce a healthy spiritual body that will produce the good works of God working through the obediently faithful Christian.  However, false teaching, like thorns, thistles, and rotten fruit, are not nourishing physically or spiritually and will produce bad health as the promotion of false teaching produces bad works.

Question: What is the symbolic significance of the fruitful vine/ tree contrasted with the barren tree or vine, or rotten tree bearing rotten fruit?  See Psalm 80:8-18; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; 12:10; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:3-10; 19:10-14; Hosea 9:16; 10:1; and read Matthew 21:18-22; [ also found in Mark 11:12-14, 20-24; Luke 13:6-9]; Matthew 21:33-46; and John 15:1-2.
Answer: Jesus will return to the metaphor of the rotten tree bearing rotten fruit contrasted with the good and fruitful tree several times during His three year ministry.  The symbol of the fruitful tree or vine held special significance for the Old Covenant Church.  Throughout the books of the prophets the fruitful tree or vine was a symbol of faithful Israel while the barren tree or vine or the tree or vine bearing wild grapes or rotten fruit was a symbol of an apostate Covenant people who do not bear the works of God. 

In fact, Jesus returned to this metaphor of the tree yielding bad fruit by performing a symbolic prophetic act His last week in Jerusalem in Matthew 21:18-22; [also found in Mark 11:12-14, 20-24; Luke 13:6-9]. Please read that passage.

Question: When a prophet performs a symbolic act that is the foretelling of a literal fulfillment ordained by God that act is known in Hebrew as an "ot".  What "ot" does Jesus act out in Matthew 21:18-22 and what does His symbolic act represent?  Please notice that this passage is preceded by the cleaning of the Temple and is followed by His last great homily to the people of Jerusalem.
Answer: Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit and it withers and dies.  This symbolic act represents Jesus' judgment on the Old Covenant Church that did not produce the "fruit"/ works which God had intended which was the conversion of the gentile nations of the world and the fulfillment of the world wide blessing promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, 18:18, and 22:18: "All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command." Paul connects this blessing to the sacrifice of Christ in Galatians 3:13-14: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake since scripture says: 'Anyone handed is accursed,' so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles in Christ Jesus, and so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith."  Please note the dramatic nature of Jesus' judgment on the fig tree in that it was not the season of harvesting figs.  The implication is that there is no excuse for not bearing good fruit.  The Covenant believer is to be continually fruitful.

A short time later when speaking to the crowds of Jerusalem Jesus will tell them in Matthew 21:43-44 and in Luke 20:16-18, after the parable of the vineyard: "Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.  The one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."

Question: To whom will the Kingdom of God be given and what is the significance of Jesus' reference to the "stone" that "will crush anyone on whom it falls"?
Answer: The Kingdom of God will be given to the New Covenant people of the New Israel, the Universal [Catholic] Church which was prophesized in Daniel 2:35, 44-45: ...the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put and end to them and it shall stand forever.  This is the meaning of the stone you saw hewn from the mountain without a hand being put to it, which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold" Daniel 2:44-45.  The "mountain" the Universal Church was hewn from was the mountain of the Old Covenant whose Temple sat on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, not by any mere human hand but by the hand of God the Father through the redemptive work of God the Son and empower and indwelled by God the Holy Spirit.

St. Jude's letter to the universal Church is entirely devoted to warning the faithful against the teaching of false prophets.  He begins with his reason for writing: "Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones.  For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ [Jude 3-4]." And he closes his letter with the exhortation:  [verses 17-21] "But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you, 'In [the] last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires.'  These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit.  Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life."

Question: In Matthew 7:19 Jesus uses a metaphor to describe what will happen to the tree bearing rotten fruit.  What is the symbolism in this metaphor?
Answer: The rotten tree will be thrown into the fire/ the false prophet will be doomed to the eternal fire of Gehenna.  Throughout His ministry Jesus will teach that faith must be evidenced by the works of God working through us.  "Faith alone" or "faith based on false teaching" will not produce candidates for the Kingdom of Heaven [see the Parable of the unfruitful servant in Matthew 25:14-30].  The words "faith alone" only appears in sacred Scripture in one verse and no other, and that verse is found in James 2:24. Beginning in 2:14 St. James warns "My brothers what good is it to profess faith without practicing it?  Such faith has no power to save one, has it?" and in 2:24 he writes, "You must perceive that a person is justified by his works and not by faith alone."

Jesus continues in this theme of judgment in Matthew 7: 21-23.
(Jesus said) "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21

Question: What is Jesus' message in 7:21-23 concerning those who only play at piety?  Who is it that will enter the gates of heaven?
Answer:  On Judgment Day the morally corrupt and false teachers will hear Jesus say: "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers." Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is only for those who obediently do the will of the Father.

In Moses' last homily in Deuteronomy 28, he tells of the Blessings promised for Covenant obedience [28:1-14] and then the curses which will fall upon God's Covenant people for disobedience and the resulting destruction and judgment [28:15-69].  Jesus began His the first homily of His ministry in the Sermon on the Mount with the Blessings of the New Covenant Law given to those who are obedient to His words [Matthew 5:1-7:28] and He will end His ministry with a final homily in Jerusalem, addressing the curses that await those who reject His words [beginning with the curses against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew chapter 23], followed by the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem, and then a final warning of the Final Judgment [Matthew 23:1-25:46].   Both Moses and Jesus called their generation of the children of Israel a "faithless and perverse (deceitful) generation" [see Numbers 14:27, 35; Deuteronomy 32:5, 20; Matthew 17:17; Luke 9:41; and Peter's condemnation of his generation in Acts 2:40], and Jesus condemns his generation in His statement in Matthew 23:36 when He tells the crowds of Jews listening to Him in His last homily that their people are responsible for the murder of God's holy prophets and the judgment for those crimes will'"In truth I tell you, it will all recoil on this generation.".

Question: Why was the judgment so sever on both these generations?  What 40 year period is significant to both generations?  Hint: If Jesus ascended to the Father in the year 30AD what disaster fell upon the Jews in 70AD?  Also see Numbers 14:26-35
Answer: In all of human history, no two generations had witnessed so intimately the visible miracles of God. 

  1. For their unbelief and disobedience God judged that the generation of the Exodus experience would wander 40 years in the wilderness until all that generation had died [with the exception of Joshua and Caleb], and a new generation had grown up before they would receive the blessing of the possession of the Promised Land. 
  2. The generation that witnessed the miracles of Jesus' three year ministry experiences 40 years of Christian witness until the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed just as Jesus had prophesized in Matthew 24:1-36: (verse 2)"You see all these [Temple in Jerusalem]?  In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another: everything will be pulled down." and (verse 34)"In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place."  In 70AD the Roman army burned the Temple, God's holy Tabernacle (Tent) the only place of worship permitted under the Old Covenant Law.  The Old Covenant had indeed come to a fiery end fulfilling Jesus' promise in Matthew 21:43, "I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit." And a fulfillment of the prophecy of Hebrews 9:8-10, " long as the old tent (Tabernacle) stands, the way into the holy place is not opened up; it is a symbol for this present time.  None of the gifts and sacrifices offered under these regulations (Old Covenant) can possibly bring any worshipper to perfection in his conscience; they are rules about outward life, connected with food and drink and washing at various times, which are in force only until the time comes to set things right.." And so it was necessary for the symbol of the Old Covenant to fall that the New Covenant would be firmly in place.  God in His mercy had given the Old Covenant people 40 years to come into the New Covenant in Christ.

Please read Matthew 25:31-46: The Final Judgment.

Question: What event will precede the Final Judgment?
Answer: The parousia, the second Advent of Jesus the Messiah when He will return in glory with all His angels. 

At the end our lives each of us will face an individual [also called the "particular"] judgment.  At that time whether our lives were a success or a failure will be judged as we stand before the great white judgment throne of God with Jesus as our advocate.  At this judgment each of us will be rewarded according to our faith and works [see CCC# 1021-22]: "If anyone builds on this foundation [Jesus Christ] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one's work.  If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage.  But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire." 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

But at the end of time, with the return of Christ, on a day which only the Father knows [Matthew 24:36; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18; 5:1-3], the final word on the history of man will be pronounced as all the nations and peoples of the earth stand in judgment before Jesus Christ the King of Kings. In the 7th vision of the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation, John witnessed the Final Judgment: "Then I saw a great white throne and the One who was sitting on it. In his presence earth and sky vanished, leaving no trace.  I saw the dead, great and small alike standing in front of his throne while the books lay open.  And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life, and the dead were judged from what was written in the books, as their deeds deserved. [...].  Then Death and Hades were hurled into the burning lake. This lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the Book of Life was hurled into the burning lake" Revelation 20:11-12, 14-15 [New Jerusalem translation]. [also see CCC# 1038-1041].  At that final judgment, through the Son, God will pronounce His final justice over all the injustices committed by man'love will triumph over death and Satan, death, and the wicked will be consigned to eternal punishment and the resurrected righteous to eternal life.

Question: The Revelation passage speaks of the "second death."  What is the "second death" and what is the first death?  Are there also 2 births?
Answer: The first death is our physical death, the second is eternal death.  Yes, there are also two births, the first is our physical birth into the family of Adam and the second is our re-birth into the family of God through our baptism.  The Fathers of the Church were fond of repeating this truth: "Born once, die twice; born twice, die once" which sums up our promise of salvation as well as the warning of eternal separation from God.

Please read the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-28: The Contrast of the Two Foundations and the importance of works of  faith:

In Matthew 7:15-23 the contrast was between "saying and doing" but now the contrast is between "hearing and doing"'the true Christian is the one who listens to the words of Jesus and does what He tells them as in the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18-19: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.  If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it."  The True prophet/disciple is then one who listens to the words Jesus speaks and obeys them.  Jesus told his disciples: "The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from my hand." John 10:27-28, New Jerusalem [also see Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35].

The contrast is also between the one who built his house on the rock opposed to the one who built his house on the sand.

Question: Who is like the man who built on the rock? See 7:24
Answer: The one who listens to and hears the words of Jesus.

Question: What is the fate of those who refuse to listen to the words of Jesus the Messiah?
Answer: They will be like one who built the foundation of his house on unstable sand.

Question: What happened to the house built on a foundation of sand?
Answer: It collapsed.  Contrasts of this teaching:                                                         

The Faithful Disciple

The False Disciple

Listens and hears =
does the will of God

Does not listen =
does not fulfill God's will

Builds on Rock which lasts forever

Builds on sand which collapses

Question: Who is the Man who built His house upon the Rock?  See Matthew 16:13-20.
Answer: The Man is Jesus, the Rock is Peter, and the house is the Church!  The Temple in Jerusalem was built upon the rock of El Shakrah [Arabic] or the eb(v)en setiyah [in Hebrew], the holy "rock of foundation" on Mt. Moriah upon which the holy covenant name of God was engraved.  But the New Covenant Temple is the body of every believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells with the name of Christ engraved upon each Christian heart, and the Catholic Church, which is Body of Christ, is built upon the firm foundation'the Rock that is Peter!  "The Rock" is a title in the Old Testament which was used for God and for the pre-incarnate Christ.  St. Paul identifies the pre-incarnate Jesus as "the Rock" in the New Testament [i.e. see Deuteronomy 32: 4; 15; 18; 30; 31; 1 Corinthians 10:4].  In Matthew 6:16 along with His power and authority, Jesus gives Peter His title of "Rock" as a sign of that authority just as He also gives Peter the keys of His kingdom! 



Question: What verse would you identify as the central theme of the Sermon on the Mount?
Answer: The central theme of the Sermon on the Mount is summarized in Matthew 5:48: "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount His statement in Matthew 5:48 is a key summation of the whole teaching in His first great homily.  In the Gospels this Greek word,  teleios [tel'-i-os; meaning "complete, of full age, perfect" [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 5046], occurs only 3 times, twice in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:48, "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" and once in Matthew 19:21 in Jesus' call of discipleship to the Rich Young Ruler seeking eternal life: "Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.'

It is important to understand that the word "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 does not refer to sinless or moral perfection. Instead it indicates spiritual perfection'the completeness or wholeness of man and woman united with God in the state of grace and divine son/daughter-ship first enjoyed in the Garden of Eden.  This is the goal for which we strive'to live our Christian lives in a state of grace empowered through the Sacraments in living the Beatitudes daily in our walk of faith.  This standard of perfection or completeness is, of course, impossibility without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but it is the standard to which Jesus called us when He descended the Mountain of the Beatitudes and taught the multitude in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:28-38:

"When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other; when someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well, Give to all who beg from you.  When a man takes what is yours, do not demand it back.  Do to others what you would have them do to you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, how can you claim any credit? Sinners do as much.  If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what merit is there in it for you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 

"Love your enemy and do good; lend without expecting repayment.  Then will your recompense be great.  You will rightly be called sons so the Most High, since he himself is good to the ungrateful and the wicked.  [....].  Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.  Give, and it shall be given to you.  Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment.  For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you."  Luke 6:28-38

In this passage Jesus is teaching about a present reality and the warning of a future judgment.  St. Paul will repeat this teaching in his letter from prison in Rome to St. Timothy on the subject of remaining strong and faithful while suffering persecution for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-13

Question: Which part of this passage speaks most deeply to you?  What is the present reality and what is the warning?
Answer: For me the last 3 verses, which must have been an early Christian hymn or repetitive prayer, united with the Beatitudes set me on my earthly path to the heavenly reality: "If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.  But if we deny him he will deny us.  If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself." The present reality is that through our baptism we die to this world with the promise that we will live Christ and reign with Him forever.  The warning is that the Christian life includes obedience, a faithful witness of the Gospel of salvation, endurance, and suffering.  In the final judgment Christ will be true to the faithful and will disown those who denied Him and through denying Him, deny the gift of salvation.

Returning to the story of the Rich Young Ruler, please read Matthew 19:16-30

Question: What was the young man's hindrance to Godly "perfection"? 
Answer: His hindrance was the self-sufficiency that his wealth gave him.

Question: When the disciples expressed astonishment at the call for such perfection in Matthew 19:25, what was Jesus' response? See 19:25-30
Answer: "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things area possible." In the end it all comes down to how we have loved.  The inspired writer of Hebrews encourages us, "For God is not unjust so as to over look your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises." Hebrews 6:10-12

Question: In Matthew 19:28 Jesus speaks of a "New Age".  To what age is He referring and what are the implications for the disciples.
Answer: The Greek word paliggenesia [pal-ing-ghen-es-ee'-ah], which can be translated "new age", or "regeneration", or "rebirth" occurs only here in Matthew 19:28 and in St Paul's letter to Titus in Titus 3:5 [International Christian Commentary]:"But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit..." Titus 3:4-5. In the Greek this word literally means spiritual "rebirth", 'regeneration", spiritual "renovation", or Messianic "restoration" [see Strong's # 3824]In Titus 3:5 this word is used of spiritual rebirth through the Sacrament of Baptism, our "bath of rebirth".  In the Matthew 19:28 passage it means the "rebirth" put into effect by the coming of the Kingdom of God, and probably refers to the time after the Resurrection.  In Matthew 19:28 Jesus promises the 12 Apostles that the time will come when they will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 Tribes of Israel.  This promise could refer to the Final Judgment when the Apostles will sit in judgment on the Old Covenant Church but could also refer to the time immediately after the Resurrection and Ascension when the twelve Apostles will take their place as the leaders of the New Israel, governing the Church of Jesus Christ in place of the old order which is no longer valid' when the leadership of the Covenant people that was first established in the throne of Moses and the elders who led the Old Covenant Church [see Matthew 23:1-2] becomes the throne of Peter and the Apostles [the Pope and the Magisterium] who will lead the New Covenant people of God.

Moses' last great homily to the children of Israel as they prepared to cross over into the Promised Land is found in the book of Deuteronomy.  In that last homily Moses gave the Children of Israel a series of blessings or Beatitudes that were promised to them for obedience to the Covenant of God in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, and then Moses gave the people a series of curses that would fall upon them if they were disobedient to the Covenant in 28:15-68, followed by warnings of judgment. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus began His homily with a series of blessings for the righteous believers of the New Covenant in Christ.  In Matthew chapter 23 in His last public homily to the crowds of the Old Covenant people of Jerusalem before His arrest He will end with a series of curses against the unrighteous, the corrupt leadership of the Old Covenant Church, and warnings of future judgment.  He will also speak of His promised return, which we refer to as the Second Coming or the Second Advent of Christ.  In His final homily to the crowds of Jerusalem Jesus speaks of the event that will proceed from His Second Advent.  Please read Matthew 25:31-46.

Question: Speaking of His return in the Second Advent, what did Jesus teach in Matthew 25:31-46 concerning the events of His return? 
Answer: At His return there will be a Final Judgment when the nations will be judged.

Question: How will the righteous be separated from the unrighteous?
Answer: On the basis of their acts of love exercised in His name.

Question: What are some of the key verses in this passage of Matthew 25:31-46?  Addressed to the condemned?  Addressed to the righteous?
Answer: Verses 34-35, 40 &46 for the righteous, and verses 41 & 45-46 for those who failed to do the will of God on their salvation journey.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus the new Moses is calling His disciples, then and now, beyond the message of justice He will teach after He descends the Mountain to give the Sermon on the Plain.  He is calling Christians of every generation to mercy and love in living the attributes of God visible to us in the Living, resurrected Christ: the attributes of living a life of divine grace, merciful compassion, and covenant love [see Exodus 33:18-19; 34:6].  The New Covenant Law calls us to faith, exercised in living the Beatitudes in union with God through Christ our Savior to produce a righteous life in conformity to the revealed will of God.  The teachings of the New Law of the Beatitudes and their expanded teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain answer Cain's question to God in Genesis chapter 4'"Am I my brother's keeper?"  The answer is an emphatic YES; yes because of our love for Christ and the supernatural love He has infused into our souls. The gentle and meek soul of St. John-Marie Vianney expressed our call to love God in his humble declaration, "I love you O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life.  I love you, O my infinitely loveable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you.  I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally...My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath." St. John Marie Vianney, as quoted in CCC # 2658

In His call to faithfulness in living the Beatitudes and the expanded teaching that followed which compose the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identifies the righteous believer who lives the New Covenant Law as one who loves God and exhibits that love by:

Jesus will continue to teach on these major themes throughout His ministry. 

CCC# 2608 "From the Sermon on the Mount onwards, Jesus insists on conversion of heart: reconciliation with one's brother before presenting an offering on the altar, love of enemies. And prayer for persecutors, prayer to the Father in secret, not heaping up empty phrases, prayerful forgiveness from the depths of the heart, purity of heart, and seeking the Kingdom before all else.  This filial conversion is entirely directed to the Father."

In the end the entire Law is based on a response to love; our love for God in Christ and how we diffuse His love to others.  It is this love that we are asked to give freely and without thought of compensation to our brothers and sisters in the family of humanity. For in God's great symphony of life, faith and love must be lived in a harmony of community as well as sung by a single voice.

"Children, let no one deceive you.  The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous.  [...].  " one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, nor anyone who does not love his brother. For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another..." [...].  "Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth." [...].  Beloved, if [our] hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.  Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us."
1 John 3:7-24

Let me close our study by sharing with you two parables; one is an amusing story sent to me by one of my students.  If you recognize this story, beloved student, you will notice that I have included some details that make the story my own:

There was a man who had lived all his life with an independent and self-sufficient spirit.  He was confident in himself and in his abilities.  Having grown up in a culturally "Christian" home, he knew about God and Jesus and was willing to acknowledge that God existed but he did not see for himself that it was necessary to make any commitment beyond the simple acknowledge that there may be a God who acted with some force on the cosmos.  Having reached middle age the man had discovered, however, that his wife, who he had considered to be a like-minded individual, was experiencing some restlessness and was seeking a more spiritual connection in her life.  She had turned to seeking God in nature and like many other individuals before her had substituted worship of the creation for worship of the Creator.  She had convinced her husband, a life long city dweller, to take a vacation to one of the national parks to experience nature in all its grandeur.  Having been forced against his will to take a group nature hike the man found that surprisingly he was thoroughly enjoying the experience. However, the chatter of the group distracted him and so he decided at the next fork in the path to take his own path and continue the hike in peace.  The path he had chosen soon dead-ended and he came out of the forest on to the edge of a large mountain meadow, but just as he stepped out of the trees across the meadow a huge grizzly bear broke through the trees and out into the open meadow.  At once the bear saw the man and began to growl and make threatening gestures before it began to run across the meadow toward the man.  The man was too frightened to run and he found himself crying out loud, "God, O God, O God."  Suddenly he heard a voice answer his cries. "Yes", said the voice of God, "I am here my child."   "O my God", said the man, "is that you?  Are you real?"  "Yes", replied God, "what do you want?"  After charging a few yards the bear had stopped to growl and gesture threateningly again.  "You see, God," said the man, "it's this huge bear'I'm afraid he is going to kill me.  I need your help but I've never made any commitment to becoming a Christian in the past and I feel it would be intellectually insincere to do so now."  "I see", said God, "then you don't want my help?"  "Oh I do, I do", said the man, "but I just can't make a commitment to you under these circumstances."  "Are you certain about this", said God, "this may be the last time you have such an opportunity."  "Say, if you really want to help me," said the man, "I know what you could do for me; could you make the bear a Christian?"  "I am God", said God, "I can do anything but are you absolutely sure this is what you want me to do?"  "Yes, yes", replied the man, "make the bear a Christian!" "Done", said God, and at that moment the bear charged again and ran right up to the man who stood absolutely frozen with fear.  The bear, however, upon coming within a few feet of the man stopped suddenly, sat back on its haunches and turning its head from side to side closely inspected the man who breathed a sigh of relief. Then the bear, putting its two front paws together, bowed its massive head and spoke.  The bear reverently said, "Bless me O Lord, for this thy gift which I am about to receive......" and upon finishing the prayer the bear ate the man!

Now this is more than an amusing story'it illustrates a truth.  Like the man in the story we too have the choice of which path we choose in life.  We can submit to God in poverty of spirit as Jesus called for us to do in the first Beatitude, or we can declare our independence from God and choose the path of self-sufficiency of spirit.  Neither path is a one time choice'it is a continual life decision that takes a life time to travel.  We can keep our eyes focused on Christ and remain on the Narrow Path or we can stray off the path, deluded by sin and selfishness into believing the other broader path holds more excitement and self-glorification.  We know the reward at the end of the path is eternal life but God does not force love'the decision is completely an exercise of our free will just as the choice was clear for our first parents in the Garden of Eden.  This choice is also in some ways similar to the classic story of the Lady and the Tiger.  As that story goes in determining one's innocence or guilt a king devised a plan where by fate would determine one's guilt or innocence.  The accused man would have the choice of choosing between two doors.  Behind one door was a ravenous tiger that would immediate leap out and devour the accused man, but behind the other door was a beautiful woman.  The accused did not know which door hid death and which door hid life.  God is far more merciful that the king in the story of "The Lady and the Tiger."  He tells us what "path" we should take and what "door" we should choose in our exercise of His gift of free will.  If we reject His path and choose to live by our own self-sufficiency of spirit He will honor our choice but the door at the end of that path, He warns us, surely leads to a total rejection of the love of God and eternal death.  However, God has promised us, through the sacrifice of God the Son, if we follow the Narrow Path that Jesus has laid out for us in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that the door at the end of that path leads to Christ our Savior and the gift of eternal life.  Jesus Himself promised us "Behold I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.  I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne" [Revelation 3:20-21].  The choice of living the law of the New Covenant as taught to us by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is entirely our choice, and the promise is'if we persevere in a life which is lived out in vital, living faith demonstrated by acts of divinely inspired love, that the reward will be a life of love with our one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, throughout all eternity.

"May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of Him.  May He enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope His call holds for you, how rich is the glory of the heritage He offers among His holy people, and how extraordinarily great is the power that He has exercised for us believers; this accords with the strength of His power at work in Christ, the power which He exercised in raising Him from the dead and enthroning Him at His right hand, in heaven, far above every principality, ruling force, power or sovereignty, or any other name that can be named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  He has put all things under His feet, and made Him, as He is above all things, the head of the Church; which is His Body, the fullness of Him who is filled, all in all"  Ephesians 1:17-23


Questions for discussion:

Question: What does St. Paul identify as fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-17 that will be harvest of right conduct from the righteous disciple?

Question: What instruction does Jesus give us concerning correction of a brother or sister within the faith community?  What are the 3 levels of correction and if those measures fail what is the final solution? Keep in mind that the final judgment is meant to be a final measure in order to bring about reconciliation and redemption.  How would you go about carrying out such a correction or have you ever had such an experience that you would like to share? See Matthew 18:15-20.

Question: What does sound teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ produce as opposed to false teaching according to St Paul in 1 Timothy 1:4-5; 4:7; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:16-18, 23; 3:16-17; Titus 1:11; 3:9; and in Jude verses 3-4, 16-25?

Question: We are encouraged to look for righteousness and love in our teachers and to reject the unrighteous and unloving.  But to these moral tests we must add a doctrinal test to ensure that the teacher's message is in accord with the original apostolic instruction passed from Christ to them to their disciples, the first Bishops of the Church and down to us in the Magisterium today.  How does the Apostle John encourage us to discern true teaching from false in 1 John 2:22-24; 4:2-3, 6; and 2 John verses 7-9?

Question: In the lesson I told you that the Fathers of the Church were fond of repeating this truth: "Born once, die twice; born twice, die once." What did they mean by this statement?

• Previous  • Sermon on the Mount Lessons List

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2005 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.