ποιεῖ in Matthew
The Sermon on the Mount ends with the parable of the wise and foolish home builders. Those who hear Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon and put them into action are like the wise man who built his house on a rock foundation. Hearing Jesus’ teachings and failing to apply them is comparable to a foolish man building his house on a sandy foundation.
The Greek verb translated as “act on” in the NRSV is ποιεῖ, the present-active-indicative third-person singular form of a verb which can be translated as to do, to act or to make. The word ποιεῖ could be used to describe a large number of incidents (he does, she acts, it makes, etc.) and I expected it to have a high number of occurrences. Instead I found that it is only used 31 times in the New Testament.
Seven of those occurrences appear in Matthew and most of those are in the Sermon on the Mount. Similar to 7:24, the word ποιεῖ is used in the Sermon to express the conviction that performing correct actions that are consistent with Jesus’ teaching will produce positive results, while incorrect actions will produce negative results.
7:17, the good tree ποιεῖ good fruit. the bad tree ποιεῖ bad fruit.
6:3, give alms in such a way that the left hand is unaware of what the right hand ποιεῖ.
5:32, anyone who divorces ποιεῖ the woman commit adultery.
Soon after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encounters a centurion who compares Jesus’ authority to heal to his own authority to issue an order and have his slave ποιεῖ it (8:9).
The conclusion to the sower parable is a combination of the good tree-good fruit and wise builder morals. The good soil refers to someone who hears the word, understands it, and ποιεῖ fruit (13:23).
The last time ποιεῖ appears in Matthew the connotation is different. Peter’s way of talking makes it (ποιεῖ) evident that he is one of Jesus’ followers. Instead of being glad to be a good tree or good soil or a wise builder, Peter denies the relationship. He swears that he does not know Jesus. Remembering Jesus’ prediction causes Peter to weep over this anticipated betrayal.
This ending fits my expectations of what the Christian life cycle will entail. We will have the best of intentions, desiring to be wise and good. We will be recognized as Christians. We will shy away from the comparison for a variety of reasons (false humility, fear of seeming naive or intellectually inferior, discomfort revealing an intensely private experience, insecurity over meeting expectations). We will regret our disloyalty.
When we confess and trust in Christ for reconciliation, the cycle begins again-- intentions to do, temptations to cease, regrets when we act foolishly, faith in salvation, resolutions to re-do.
Peter heard Jesus’ teachings first hand. He desired to live them out and was confident that he could do so. His ποιεῖ-efforts ended in tears of bitter regret. As will ours. I do not take pleasure in this realization. The certainty of failed intentions (to greater and lesser degrees) does not comfort me.
The inevitability of failure does not discourage me, however. Repentance-Faith-Holiness is the Christian life cycle. This is the way a person ποιεῖ Jesus’ teachings. We will never outgrow the need to evaluate our actions in light of the Gospel, repent if necessary, renew our faith, and rededicate ourselves to the ideal of holiness.