Matthew 7: 7-12
The last line of today’s gospel introduces the ‘golden rule’. “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” The golden rule of Mathew 7: 12 and Luke 6:31 have similar teachings in all world religions and philosophies. From the time of the ancient Egyptians to Socrates, Aristotle, Confucius, to the teachings of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism, this ethic of positive human good will, is espoused.
Almost a decade before Christ, the Elder Hillel, who, while standing on one foot, was challenged by a prospective Gentile convert to sum up the whole law in one line. He replied, “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary. Go forth and study.”
Erroneously, many Christian writers, desiring to demonstrate a distinction between the teaching of Jesus, and the other faiths or philosophies, state that the teaching of Jesus was in the positive, while the rest were negatively stated, making them ‘silver rules’ to Jesus’ ‘golden rule’. This is not true! For while most of the ‘golden rules were in the negative’, there were some in the positive too.
What did Jesus want His disciples to learn? By merely following the ‘golden rule’ as commonly practiced, as in the case of Rabbi Hillel, one simply had to do nothing to break the rule; ‘that which is hateful do not do’. The rule while intending goodness is relegated to passivity. It does not command one to act positively. Jesus (and many other faiths) invited their disciples to positive action. Jesus says, “In EVERYTHING do to others as you would have them do to you.” So if you walk into Church and wished someone else had sat a bit more considerately below a fan, so to allow one more person to enjoy the breeze; the next time you get to Church, do exactly what you had hoped for, the last time.
But Jesus took this golden rule to another level in Luke’s gospel when He said, ‘if you love those who love you what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?” Jesus is not merely asking for positive reciprocity, He is asking for the golden rule to be applied even to those who would not believe in it; to those who would never follow it, to those who would not acknowledge it. This is what makes the teaching of Jesus so different.
This common sense folk wisdom of reciprocity is taken to another level; a different way of life, an unconventional way of life. And that’s what makes this teaching such a challenge in Lent. Jesus demands the ‘magis’ (more) principle that St. Ignatius reflected in his spiritual exercise. To quote a great ad campaign of the PEPSI company, in the 1990’s, “yeh dil mange MORE”. The nicely balanced scales of justice are not the logo for the Christian; the Christians’ logo is the cross. How do I go beyond that golden rule? That is how Christ would have me live.
About 200 years after Christ, a pro Christian Roman Emperor, Alexander Severus adopted the golden rule as his motto. It is said that he was so taken up by the teachings of Christ and in particular, this teaching, that he had it displayed in gold on the walls of his palace and on public buildings. Whatever be the fact of the story, no matter how precious the material used; if it is not written on our hearts then it remains in stone on a wall.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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