Jesus had a way of zeroing in on the crux of a matter. He cuts away all of the fluff, exposes the excuses and rationalizations, and speaks truth. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, His quintessential teachings on the walk with God, He nails the true bottom line.
He uses an analogy comparing a wise man and a foolish man to two houses built by the sea. The wise man builds his house on rock and therefore survives when the inevitable storm comes. The foolish man constructs his home on shifting sand, which washes away when the rains come. The surprise – and there is always a surprise with Jesus – is what differentiates the wise man from the foolish man. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…” (Matt 7:24). Likewise, the foolish man “hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice…” (vs. 26).
The vital difference between the two is that one hears and acts and the other hears and does not act.
This truth seems so basic, and yet we ignore it all the time. We know how we should eat, and we still eat what we want. We know we should exercise. We know we would benefit by having a meaningful morning routine with quiet time for reflection and prayer. We know harsh words wound others and are not helpful. The list goes on and on. We don’t have a knowing problem, we have a doing problem.
Doing the right thing is not easy, but that is simply a fact, not an excuse. Consider the list that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
- Be gentle (5:5)
- Be merciful (5:7)
- Be peacemakers (5:9)
- Control your anger.
- Control your lustful thoughts.
- Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
- Go the extra mile.
- Love your enemies.
- Give to the needy anonymously.
- Store up treasures in heaven, not on the earth.
- Don’t worry, instead, trust God.
- Don’t judge others. We have enough problems of our own.
The list may overwhelm us. We may not know how to put each of these into practice. But much of Jesus’ teaching is only a matter of doing. Though it may be hard, I can simply choose to go the extra mile when the situation arises to help someone. I have the ability to choose to give to needy people and tell no one. Today, I am able to make the choice to judge those around me less. I may not be perfect in my practice, but I can move in the right direction. The wise person doesn’t get worry about whether the right thing is difficult. The wise person doesn’t get caught up in whether she understands all of the nuance. The wise person just starts doing.
Now, it comes down to you and me. Will we be like the wise person or like the foolish one? Take one or two items from the list above, or any other list of things you know you should do, and take action… and keep on taking action. Our lives will change when we start acting on what we know to be true. Our lives will stay the same as we continue to only think about and debate the subtleties and difficulties of doing the right thing. Will you and I, be wise or foolish?