Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr

The foolishness of building a house on sand is obvious.  Unfortunately, the foolishness of building one’s life on the realities of this passing world is not as obvious.  The house that is built on sand may even look the same as the one built on rock: perhaps the same materials were used, the same architecture, the same floor-plan.  While the weather is good, it doesn’t seem to matter that one is built on sand and the other rock.  People can build their lives the same way: they may have the same jobs, the same clothes, the same friends/activities.  If they do not build their lives on Christ, however, when the storms of life come they will be utterly decimated.

This isn’t the story of the three little pigs.  This isn’t about laziness or obvious imprudence.  It is a fundamental choice that is either made or not.  Wisdom requires that the whole edifice of our human life be built on something immovable.  Our spirit is not made of anything and can therefore only gain its stability from another spirit stronger than itself.  We can even be under the illusion that another human person could be a strong enough support to rest our spirit.  While this is certainly closer to the truth than relying on wealth or pleasure for happiness, the stability that friendship provides is still not impervious to death, deceit, betrayal, and abandonment.  The only spirit truly stronger than our own, and the only one which provides infinite support is the spirit of God.  By faith, by our cleaving to Jesus Christ and obeying His commandments, we build our life on solid rock.


The church has gold, not stored up but to lay out and to spend on those who need. What necessity is there to guard what is of no good? Do we not know how much gold and silver the Assyrians took out of the temple of the Lord? Is it not much better that the priests should melt it down for the sustenance of the poor, if other supplies fail, than that of a sacrilegious enemy should carry it off and defile it? Would not the Lord say, Why did you allow so many needy to die of hunger? Surely you had gold? You should have given them sustenance. Why are so many captives brought to the slave market, and why are so many unredeemed left to be slain by the enemy? It had been better to preserve living vessels than gold ones.1


There may be some who, in the beginning, believed rightly and assiduously labored at virtue. They may have even worked miracles and prophesied and cast out demons. And yet later they are found turning aside to evil, to self-assertive deception and desire. Of these Jesus remarks that he “never knew them.” He ranks them as equivalent to those who were never known by him at all. Even if they at the outset had lived virtuously, they ended up condemned. God knows those whom he loves, and he loves those who single-mindedly believe in him and do the things that please him.2


In referring to rain, floods and winds Jesus is speaking about all those human circumstances and misfortunes, such as false accusations, plots, bereavements, deaths, loss of family members, insults from others, and all the horrid things in life about which one could speak. Jesus says that a soul that pursues the way of excellence does not give in to any of these potential disasters. And the cause of this is that this soul has been founded upon the rock.
Now “rock” refers to the reliability of Jesus’ teaching. For his commands are stronger than any rock. They place one quite above all the human waves of life. For the one who guards these commands with care will excel not only over human beings when treated maliciously but even over the demons themselves in their plots.3


“For neither death nor life nor angels nor other things can separate us from the love of Christ.” Neither can the flooding of rivers, as in the lands of Egypt and Assyria, do harm. Only those are harmed who build on sand, who practice the wisdom of the world. The winds that blow are like the false prophets. All these, coming together in one place, “beat upon” the house. If it is founded on rock, they do no harm. “The way of a snake upon a rock” is not to be found. But in the form of temptations and persecutions, which may mount into a flood, they beat upon even the one who seems to be well-founded. The house falls if it does not have Christ as its basis and foundation. But the truly wise person builds one’s house “upon a rock.” This is the way the Lord builds his church—upon the rock, with steadfastness and strength. This is why “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” All the persecutions that fall upon that house accomplish nothing. The house is founded upon the rock.4


And he was right in calling this one a fool, because what could be more brainless than building a house on the sand? For such a one endures the work of building but deprives oneself of the fruit of one’s labor and of relaxation, experiencing punishment instead of benefit. For it is surely clear to everyone that even those who follow a wicked path have to sweat in labor. Even the robber, the adulterer and the false accuser have to work and strain so that they can bring their evil to completion. But they not only reap no benefit at all from these labors but also experience much loss. For Paul was implying this when he said, “The one who sows to one’s flesh will reap corruption from one’s flesh.” Who are these persons who build on the sand? Those who are given up to fornication, debauchery, drunkenness and anger—they are building on sand.5


  1. DUTIES OF THE CLERGY 2.28.137.  Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 237). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. FRAGMENT 88.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 156). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 24.2.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 156–157). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. FRAGMENT 153.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 157). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 24.3.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 157). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x