Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sermon on the Mount : Earth Quake Resistant Foundation

Sunday, July 13, 2008

In concluding the Sermon on the Mount Mathew records that Jesus has said: Any one who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock ... (Matt.: 7:24-27). I have preached on this verse several times. All those sermons were focused on the necessity of unchanging foundation. That has been the way it was interpreted in the Annangar church by Dr. K.M. Thomas, of Kozhikode today. Dr. Thomas is brother in law of Mr. James Abraham (Saji) our choir member) who visited the Church for the promotion of the ministry of the Gideons International. Gideon ministry will place Bibles in Public places in your name for the money you contribute. The parishioners generously responded to his appeal. People are in search of reliable and strong foundation. However, these days I am being challenged by the schools of non foundationalism and post foundationalism. The argument of the non foundationalism is that there are no reliable foundations. There are only shifting foundations and we cannot take any absolute position. Postfoundationalist position warns us of the danger of falling into the foundationalist ghettoism, taking something to be a foundation when such a thing is not there. Unless we read in between the lines of Jesus' sermon we may fall into two dangers: First, building our life on false premises, thinking that it is the foundation that Jesus spoke about as it has been happening in the recent text book controversy in Kerala. Second is endangering our freedom to change since change is the only constant reality in the world.

How to find out what does it mean by rockfoundation in Jesus' words? The Jewish people have been bringing up their children strictly on the word of God. They strongly believed that what they teach are right because all their teachings were based on the words of Torah, the Mosaic Law, the words given by God to Moses. They believed that therefore they cannot be wrong; there is no foundations stronger than their Torah for that matter. Jesus did not accept this interpretation. All his efforts were to challenge the edifice the Jews had built upon the Law, not because that they are built on shifting sands but rather that they are built on false premises, thinking that they are absolutes. All religions find their founding documents authoritative and absolute. It gives them security and sense of purpose. Without them people find them helpless, with out any direction in life. Therefore they are even willing to die for the protection of them. Christians, Muslim, Hindus, without any exception would die for their sacred Scriptures, ground of their faith, since they think that this is the basic minimum that they should do with their life. Without this foundation, no life.

The whole Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to change such traditionally considered absolute foundations based on the interpretation of the scripture. Jesus is asking them to search for new foundation in his words. The strong foundations of faith which the Jews had only led them away from God, to look to themselves and idealize their standpoints. The rock upon which the Jews built their religion had been working well, shaping their community, economics, faith for more than 1500 years. Jesus has been asking them to build their houses on his words that point to the , the fulfillment of the law, the purpose of God for Creation. The Law is fulfilled not in rediscovering the Mosaic injunctions of the past but in search of its present and future fulfillment.

Rocks, rigid, stern foundations are not as safe as we used to think as the modern geology teaches us. Every year, earthquakes, breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth's surface, take the lives of thousands of people and destroys houses, causes tsunamis. We need to rethink the mode of our structural designing to resist earthquake forces. For hundreds of millions of years, the forces of plate tectonics have shaped the earth as they move slowly over, under, and past each other. Sometimes the movement is gradual. At other times, the plates are locked together and the plates break free causing the ground to shake.

Conventional earthquake resistant design of buildings depends upon providing the buildings with strength, stiffness and inelastic deformation capacity. New structural engineering introduces the concept of base isolation where buildings rest on frictionless rollers. When the ground shakes, the rollers freely roll, but the building above does not move. Thus, no force is transferred to the building due to the shaking of the ground; simply, the building does not experience the earthquake. The base-isolators are flexible pads. Another way is to install Seismic Dampers in place of structural elements, such as diagonal braces which act like the hydraulic shock absorbers. These modern technology provide more stability to buildings rather than inflexible rock foundation.

Jesus is asking us to build our lives on his words which challenge the absolutist categories and conventional wisdom which go over thousands of years. Jesus words act like contemporary flexible pads and base rollers absorbs better the tremors that destroy the house. Jesus' point is that no one would build a house on the sand if one knows that. In Palestine water will rise in wadis perhaps after several years. When some one builds a house one will not be knowing that the foundation cannot uphold the building. Don't try to defend the conventional knowledge as if they were eternal truths but be ready to go beyond. In Postmodernist thinking foundational truths are linguistic constructs, interpretations. So Jesus interpretation, the Words of Jesus, is the true foundation, not settling down by the present foundation. Search for the words of future from Jesus in order to find true stability for our life.

The present text book controversy in Kerala illustrates how people are upset when the conventional foundations are threatened. They are afraid that if the children are exposed to the wind and rain in the world their faith would drift away. Jesus' point is not to blame the rain and wind, which the people are now trying to do. Let the children get the right to decide, rather than we bidding them to grow in our own ignorant and false foundations.


Jesudas Athyal said...

These are deep theological insights on one of the most familiar Biblical passages. Your comments help us to look at scriptures from a new perspective. Post foundationalist approach may perhaps be the contextual way of re-reading Bible. We may, however, have to avoid the trap of elevating Post foundationalist/ post modern categories as absolutes.

Jacob Thomas said...

Certainly no categories are absolute