”The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
The model of Cain’s sacrifice, the primary and perfect example of mankind’s desire to be the final and full measure of all things, is reproduced in history and today’s society with a consistency worthy of a better cause.
On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred. The nuclear plant had six reactors that together produced 4.7 GW, thus ranking among the world’s top 25 plants. That is why the 2011 disaster was considered the most important civilian nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Following this catastrophe, more than 100,000 people were evacuated for fear of radioactive leaks, and the global economic impact was difficult to establish. However, the conclusion of the group of experts that analysed the causes of the accident is unexpected.
Apart from the 9-magnitude earthquake and the high waves that hit the plant, the main cause was thought to be the conviction of the Japanese power companies and government that a serious nuclear accident could never happen in the Land of the Rising Sun.
This myth of absolute security—which made Belshazzar, the Babylonian emperor mentioned in the Bible, drink wine on the night the Persian Cyrus entered the city—is the same one that led to the sinking of the Titanic, which killed over 1,500 people. In the parable of the heedless self-absorbed individual found in Luke 12, this myth of complete security that has devastating consequences is expressed by the words “for many years,” which reveal to us that people are confident that a long and happy life awaits them.
The portrait of a selfish fool
From the text of the parable, it is evident that the man was not experiencing his first financial success, since he is described as rich, and we learn that he already had large barns. His problem was not abundance, but the final decision to stop working and keep everything to himself. Instead of being a river, he becomes a puddle.
When we resolutely close any way from ourselves to others, and when God disappears from the horizon of life, we are actually writing the same history of the foolish rich man. The rise and fall of ancient or modern empires follow the rule illustrated by the parable of the selfish fool. The Enron scandal or the Lehman Brothers disaster are testimonies to the fact that the rich man in the parable is still among us today, and potentially in each of us.
The way of Jesus
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).
When Jesus said that the wise man builds on the rock, He was referring to personal decisions and the courage to be different, even if it means choosing the narrow and difficult paths in life instead of the wide and easy ones.
The wise builder is described by Jesus as one who hears the “Words” and puts them into practice, which connects the parable of Jesus with the entire message spoken on that occasion—a message that begins with the well-known “beatitudes on the mount,” continues with advice on how to deal with worry, is followed by The Lord’s Prayer, and ends with the description of the Christian life as a tree that bears good fruit.
This fruit is not just the sporadic activity of a bored tree by the side of the road, but implies permanence and consistency, a way of life that makes the difference between building on the rock versus on sand, between reality and illusion, between true life and selfishness.
By the standards of their time, Emma Whittemore and her husband, Sidney, had almost everything: money, many servants, parties, social friends, and expensive clothes. Open to anything new, Emma accepted a friend’s invitation to listen to a well-known evangelist preaching in the area.
Seeing Emma’s keen interest in what she heard, Mrs Kelli, her friend, invited her and her husband to go and listen to Jerry McAuley as well. They left there convinced that it would be the first and last meeting with Jerry, a former drunk, because he was preaching to the lowest people of society, in a notorious New York neighbourhood.
However, while listening to the preacher’s message, a deep conviction took over the two spouses—God was calling them to work for these people.
At first, the thought seemed impossible to them, and they tried to convince themselves with every rational argument that such a challenge was not for them. However, what they saw and heard that evening convinced them that God was calling them to love these people. On October 25, 1890, Emma Whittemore opened the first “Door of Hope” for sex workers in New York.
Despite the degradation she saw daily and the situations that pushed her to the limit of giving up, Emma continued to open houses where women could be received and helped. The “Door of Hope” model was adopted in other cities as well. When Emma Whittemore died in 1931, 97 such Doors of Hope were open in seven countries.
Love builds on the rock, with tears, smiles, sacrifice, and hope. However, such an image can scare many from the get-go, especially those who believe that a chequered past is insurmountable.
A chequered past is not insurmountable
Aki Ra doesn’t know when he was born but he believes it was around the year 1973. He was kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge, who killed his parents and took him to a jungle camp to train him to be a soldier. At the age of 10, he started laying the first landmines in Cambodia. After about four years, he was captured by the Vietnamese army and given a choice between being killed and fighting on their side. Naturally, he chose the second option.
From 1990 onwards he fought on the side of the Cambodian army against the Khmer Rouge and eventually came under the command of the UN peacekeeping troops, where he wound up defusing the landmines he had learned to plant when he was ten.
He worked with the UN forces for three years and, after they left Cambodia, he continued demining, this time on his own, with a knife and a sharp stick. In time, he collected war relics and gathered them in his house, which soon became a museum for those who wanted to see firsthand what the war in Cambodia had meant.
The large number of visitors gave him the idea to set an entrance fee, so he could have money to help orphans whose parents had died by the bullets or landmines of the Khmer Rouge. Today, he is taking care of 29 orphaned children, who are now growing up together with his four children, also motherless since 2009.
Even though a foundation laid on sand often seems to force you to continue to build on sand to the end, the past is not an insurmountable boundary in trying to change the present. Building on the rock starts with today, with the decision you make now, with a decision to do good.
Jesus’ sermon, which ends with this parable, is filled with imperative verbs, revealing that His listeners could immediately change the place and purpose of their construction. Ironically, sometimes the past can bring the illusion of a quality foundation, as was the case in the biblical story of the rich young man who was “overwhelmed” by his achievements, despite feeling empty and spiritually unreconciled.
The explanation is that, by our nature, we are evil even when we are good, and that we build on sand even if our parents built on the rock. Judging from this perspective, we are all born building on sand, and the world around us often seems like the camp where we learn how to make war. Getting out of this circle of helplessness is the result of our intentional choices and a miracle of God’s power to transform lives. Aki Ra is proof that you can switch sides, that rebirth is possible.
How to go from sand to rock
Jesus also told the parable of a builder who, before starting work, calculated his expenses to see if he could carry it to the end. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish'” (Luke 14:28-30).
It is obvious that the “estimate” that Jesus referred to does not imply immediate results, so it must be done with long-term thinking in mind. The results don’t come in an instant. That is precisely why Jesus warns that a solid construction of character requires consideration, patience, determination, and consistency.
Storms don’t come every day to prove the stability of the house built on the rock. Many rock-cut citadels remained unknown or forgotten for a long time. But God never forgot about them.
Peter Cameron Scott was born in 1867 in Scotland into a poor Christian family. With exceptional musical talent, Scott wanted to join a professional choir but due to a promise he made to God as a child, he enrolled in a school that trained missionaries for Africa instead. He did not have the patience to finish school and, because he felt that he was greatly needed in the African missionary field, left for the Congo in 1890.
His brother would follow him only a few months later, but unfortunately only to be buried there, as he succumbed to an illness contracted on the continent. Scott would also be stricken with a tropical disease and would be forced to return to Britain to recuperate. However, in 1895, together with a diverse missionary group, he returned to Africa, to Mombasa, and then spent some time in Nwazi, Kenya.
In the months that followed, Scott went deeper and deeper into the jungle to meet uncontacted tribes. During such an expedition, the young man fell ill with malaria. He died in December 1896, aged only 29.
In just one year, however, he had travelled over 4,000 km and established four missionary centres. His courage and dedication inspired many to continue his efforts. Although Scott died after only a year of missionary activity in Kenya and his team was decimated by tropical diseases, their dream did not die out.
Because of their sacrifice and others like them, over 80 per cent of Kenyans are Christians today. On the rock, you sometimes build with tears but your construction lasts forever. For his ideal, Scott was willing to pay the highest price—his life—and love to the end. His ambition was not a mirage, or an outburst of a childish dream, but it sprang from the knowledge of the Model offered by the One who loved “first.”
We build on the Rock as long as we build like Him and with Him. Any resting place outside of this Model is a construction on sand even if it lasts for what seems like ages. The measure of Christians is eternity. Acquiring this perspective gives clarity to life and strength to the will, anchoring everything in undying certainties.
The rich fool thought he could be happy by keeping everything to himself. The examples of Emma, Aki Ra, and many other unsung heroes prove that you really only keep what you give and only as much as you give.
Rock or sand is a choice we make every day, when we structure our lives according to the Creator’s taste or according to our tastes, when we choose to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘go the second mile’ or when we pretend to have faith and pray only when people are watching. At some point, the storm will come.
It may come even this very night, as it did with the rich man and King Belshazzar, or later, as it did with King Herod. However, if you are built on the rock, you have nothing to fear—God has promised that the sun will break through the clouds again.
Adrian Neagu is the editorial director of Life and Health Publishing House Romania and holds a PhD in History.