This is one of the most recognizable passages in the scriptures. It is also known as the Golden Rule. It is a statement that bears the full weight of the truth. Though we are all attracted to this divine wisdom, sadly, few of us have made it one of the great habits of our own lives. We often use this verse to enhance our arguments for the kind of behavior that must be practiced commonly, in order to bring about true justice and peace, yet, it remains a rare commodity in our reality. This, of course, does not do damage to the truth of it.
We might get a bit of an insight as to why it is so difficult for us when we look at the context in which Jesus gives us this wisdom. It comes in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount. More specifically, it comes in the middle of his discourse on “loving our enemies.” Of course in our intellects we can see the wisdom of the Golden Rule quite clearly. The trouble is that when we are dealing with our “enemies” we are usually caught up in our own emotional responses to them. These emotions are instant and powerful. The often disguise themselves as answers, even just responses. But because they are so strong, and appear to be so satisfying, we often turn the Golden Rule on its face thinking, “Do unto them before they do unto us.” We are not alone in this. We are all in it together. And because we are, we rarely find real, lasting, just, and respectful solutions to our problems with our enemies.
Jesus deepens the wisdom of this verse in the form of a logical argument. He follows it by saying, “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” (verse 7) If we continue to act as sinners, we can expect nothing new to happen, no improvement in our lives. Jesus is challenging us to see that if we are going to call ourselves his followers we must change in our hearts and in our minds and begin to practice loving others as he did. As sinners we are all enemies of God in some way. Yet he loved us all unconditionally and died for each one of us on the cross. Jesus is challenging us to break out of our old molds and behaviors, which only continue the enmities between us. Jesus is not about making this life easier. He is telling us how to live this life better, more in line with the divine nature he breathed into us at our conception.
When he says to us, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” he is not talking about just our friends and families, the people we like. That is easy. What he is asking of us is very difficult, but it is the only way that we are going to be able to even begin to reduce the enmities that divide us, and that all too often destroy us. We are to treat our “enemies” as we would have them treat us. This, after all, is what he did for us. It is this kind of attitude alone that will bring about the justice and the peace we yearn for in our lives. Of course, we cannot do this alone. We have to believe in Jesus and his words. If we believe, and act accordingly, he will give us the graces we need to be successful every step of the way. True, the “enemy” might not have this insight, and we may indeed still suffer at their hands, but then, Jesus tells us something hard again. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well…” (verses 27-29) It would be a terrible mistake to say that Jesus is just speaking figuratively here. No. He means what he says. And to prove it he walked his talk all the way to the cross and beyond. His last commandment to us was, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34) Jesus is serious. Believe this too; he would not tell us to do this if we were not capable of it.
Lord, you have made us in your image and likeness; help us live up to that goodness in our daily lives. Deepen our understanding of your word to us in this Golden Rule. Give us the strength and the courage to live it as you have taught us in both word and deed. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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