Wednesday, August 22, 2012
A Difficult But Golden Rule
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” We commonly refer to it as its new name, the Golden Rule. While that title might have only been attached to it for around 400 years, the concept itself dates back probably 3000.
A maxim similar to the Golden Rule is found in the teachings of various sages; Socrates among the Greeks, Buddha and Confucius among the Orientals and Hillel among the Jews
in the period of wide-spread rabbinic tradition before the time of Jesus. What is interesting, though, is that many of the other teachers do not shape this ethic of reciprocity in the same
direction as Jesus. Their maxims are often written in a negative and passive voice. They say: “Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.” It is a rule of not doing, rather than of doing (Peoples New Testament, 1891).
Can you see the difference? While both lift up the need to consider others in your interactions, the negative commandment is asking you to do no harm. The positive commandment, however, asks you to do good, as well. While they sound similar, and in many ways are, they can also be very different.
This was the scripture that we talked about on Monday at our Youth Bible Study. The High
Schoolers seemed to get it immediately. It is one thing to pass by the person in the hallway, clearly having a bad day, and not contribute any more to their grief. It is an entirely different thing to stop and seek to come to their aid. Jesus’ version of this universal commandment places the burden on us to take the initiative, not passively watch and keep separate. This makes the rule more difficult to follow. The pace of our modern world, with demands and agendas and expectations that never seem to abate, instead only seemingly increasing, adds the the challenge of taking the initiative in the lives of others to do good.
With all of the attention paid on the first phrase, it is easy enough to pass right over Jesus’ last words in this sentence. What is that part about law and prophets? If you consider that for a Jew at the time of Jesus, and still today, the law and the prophets were the center of the authority for living and ethics, Jesus is making a bold statement. Jesus is suggesting that this Golden Rule somehow captures the essence of God’s Word to humanity. That is a big deal. We should pay attention.
I think Jesus elevates this singular verse above many others because it is a brilliant, yet subtle, reminder that the whole world does not center around us. There are others here, too. We must live together. We must take second sometime and we must sacrifice often. We must think of others because we want to be thought of. This is opposite idolatry, so talked about and put down in the Old Testament, at a time when too many of us idolize self. It is not about ‘me’. Very often, this is a very difficult rule to follow.
Grace and Peace to you, Scott