The Lord says, "Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall." (Mt 7: 24- 27)
The wise and the foolish:
The difference between them is behavioral, not intellectual. He gave us as an example the Parable of the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins (Mt 25). The difference was in the conduct, a difference between wisdom and foolishness, which means lack of wisdom rather than lack of knowledge or intelligence.
There is a great difference between intelligence and wisdom.
Intelligence is a mental intellectual gift, for a smart person is one who is witty, understands quickly, reasoning, and able to make sound conclusions. On the other side, a wise person is one who behaves soundly. A wise person may be intelligent but not every intelligent person is necessarily wise.
A person may be intelligent but subject to psychic or social factors that bring him/her away from wisdom. Another intelligent person may be quick-tempered. His anger is capable of trapping him in problems which a foolish person may not fall in! There may be a university student, yet behaves wrongly and imprudently.
Some intelligent persons may be subject to body lusts, love of property or authority, or obstinacy. Such attributes lead to wrong and imprudent conduct unacceptable to those who deal with him.
A philosopher for instance in spite of maturity, intelligence, and the highest intellectual ability, nevertheless he may be an atheist. The Scripture describes such an atheist by the words, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Ps 14: 1)
Although a philosopher, he is considered foolish because of his atheism.
Indeed, such a person is foolish, being ignorant of God and of the facts related to creation, judgment, eternity, the world of spirit, and angels. The Scripture requests us to be wise, understanding, and prudent, not only to be intelligent and mentally active. What then does it mean to be wise?
St. James the Apostle says in his Epistle:
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." (Jas 3: 13- 17)
Such is practical wisdom that appears in one's conduct in life and in one's good behavior. The same applies to the behavior of the five wise virgins who were ready to receive the Bridegroom, and they took oil in their vessels, so their lamps did not go out (Mt 25: 4). It was a wise behavior.
The Scripture describes this by the words: "The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness." (Eccl 2: 14) It is a matter of conduct, for who walks in darkness does not know where he is going!
Strange indeed that "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise." (Prov 12: 15) He is a fool, but he has self- conceit, because he is intelligent. His intelligence leads him to self-conceit, and self-conceit leads him to wrong acts. However, he does not accept counsel or advice, for his way is right in his own eyes. He argues whatever advice he receives!
Many people therefore are troubled by such self-conceit caused by their intelligence.
Their intelligence is a trouble to them, either, because they use it without wisdom, or because it is connected with a vain lust for which they use the intelligence to satisfy or to commit a certain sin.
Thieves are intelligent, but not wise. They devise their plans and implement them very skillfully without leaving a trace. The same applies to many intelligent famous criminals.
A person who is wise in his own eyes (Prov 3: 7), usually falls, because his intelligence is connected with self-conceit. But a wise person who is not self-conceited shall prosper. Joseph the Righteous was discerning and wise, a man in whom was the Spirit of God (Gen 41: 39, 38). That is why he could manage the affairs of Egypt with wisdom in the days of famine and arrange for provisions in a way that saved the people and the surrounding countries from the danger of famine.
It is wisdom from above, a divine gift, different from the normal human wisdom. On the opposite isignorance or foolishness, which does not mean only lack of knowledge, but also lack of wisdom.
When the wise person does wrong:
When a wise person does wrong, he accepts correction and accepts counsel. Actually, nobody is infallible, but the difference is between the wise and the foolish in case of doing wrong. The Scripture says:
"Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you." (Prov 9: 8)
A person may be wise, but not infallible. He may do wrong and need reproach, but being wise he accepts reproach, and loves the person who reproves him, seeing that such a person saves him from his wrongdoings by drawing his attention to them. The Scripture truly says, "Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool." (Prov 17: 10)
A wise person accepts scoffing and benefits from it for correcting and improving oneself to be still wiser (Prov 9: 9). The foolish on the other hand, due to self-conceit, does not accept scoffing or reproach, nor is influenced by them. He even hates who does so to him, and be an enemy to him and may attack him. That is why the Scripture says, "He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself." (Prov 9: 7) It is easy for the wise to obey, but the foolish is usually disobedient.
Built his house:
The Lord says that the wise man built his house on the rock.
What does "his house" signify?
It may signify one's spiritual life, for the Lord requires us to hear His words and obey them, that is, turn the commandments into life. It also may mean one's ministry, how it ought to be based on the Lord's teaching and the concern about His Kingdom. So, the main thing on which the Lord concentrated is obeying His words, not only listening to them, for everybody listens and hears, but the difference between the wise and the foolish is to obey and do according to the Lord's words.
Hearing and acting:
Almost all the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the blessings up to the end of the Sermon, is concentrated on acting. It is the same point of focus from the beginning of creation. Disobedience was the cause of the first sin.
Our mother Eve heard God's commandment, and learnt it by heart, and very accurately. This is clear in her talk with the serpent, when the serpent asked her about eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve did not say that God had commanded them not to eat of it only, but said that He commanded them not even to touch it (Gen 3: 3). Yet she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate (Gen 3: 6).
The scribes and Pharisees likewise heard the words of the Lord but did not obey. The chief Jews and the priests on hearing His words they wanted to seize on a word against Him, or to criticize Him! Not all those who heard had pure intent and desire to obey.
What avails is that when you hear the words of the Lord, you ought to have the desire to benefit from them.
With such a desire, you can turn what you hear into life, act accordingly, or train yourself to act and to overcome any opposition that many hinder you. Say to yourself, "You are inexcusable, O man you are inexcusable, O man." (Rom 2: 1)
The main hindrance to obeying the commandment is the lack of desire in a person.
That is why the Lord said to the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda, "Do you want to be made well?" (Jn 5: 6) Now the question is addressed to each of us to rid ourselves of our weaknesses and sins. If anybody wants to return to God, the way is clear, but one should start it and walk it, trusting that God's grace supports and strengthens.
The problem of the rich young man was that he did not have the desire.
He heard the commandment from the Lord's mouth, but could not obey it. So he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mt 19: 22). The love of possessions had dominion over his heart, hindering them from obeying what he heard from the Lord. His desire was to get eternal life, but soon that desire fell away, because it was in conflict with his desire to keep his wealth!
There is more to be said in this concern, which we will tackle next week, God willing.