Houses by the Bank of the River Zaan in Zaandam,
Painted by Claude Monet (1840-1926),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1871
© Städel Museum, Frankfurt
The river floods could not shake the house
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. For every tree can be told by its own fruit: people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles. A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.
‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord” and not do what I say?
‘Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and acts on them – I will show you what he is like. He is like the man who when he built his house dug, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on rock; when the river was in flood it bore down on that house but could not shake it, it was so well built. But the one who listens and does nothing is like the man who built his house on soil, with no foundations: as soon as the river bore down on it, it collapsed; and what a ruin that house became!’
Reflection on the painting
Immediately after the Franco-Prussian War, during which Claude Monet had sought exile in London and painted numerous paintings of the River Thames, the artist made his way to the Netherlands. Monet and his family stayed in a small town near Amsterdam called Zaandam. He thought it was an idyllic spot. He wrote to his friend Camille Pissarro saying 'One would be busy for an entire painter's life here in Zaandam.' This painting would be in stark contrast with what he would have painted in Paris, lying in ruins after the war. The happy scenery of Zaandam contrasted with the sadness of Paris at the time. The soft green tonalities and the reflection of the houses in the river waters make for a delightful painting. The shimmering light is captured by Monet in his unique way, conveying a carefree, joyful scene.
The houses we see depicted must have strong foundations, as they are built on the river banks. These foundations would have been partly on soil, partly inside the river bed itself. Jesus uses the image of house building in today's reading and the need to have strong foundations. Do we feel we have solid foundations in our faith? In times where we are surrounded by relativism and secularism, is our faith strong enough to withstand any storm or criticism, or would be easily crumble because of the worldly pressures around us? To build our lives on Christian values is the bedrock to which Jesus is inviting us.
So how do we achieve this? Jesus gives the answer in our reading: listen, pray and act. A three-step approach. Firstly, there is listening, and once we have listened we can then pray about it. Jesus even gives us a short prayer: 'Lord, Lord'. Then, finally, there is action, which Jesus identifies as doing what he has communicated to us in prayer.
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