God’s Golden Rule
Text: Luke 6:27-38
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When some people compare religions, often in a cheeky attempt to show that they’re all the same somehow, they’ll point out that religions and philosophers from all over the world and all times have come up with some form of the Golden Rule. And at first glance, there does appear to be a lot of similarity. Around 500 BC, the Chinese sage Confucius said, “Do not do to others what you would not want others to do to you.” The Greek historian and thinker Herodotus said something similar: “I will not myself do that which I consider blameworthy in my neighbor.” In Judaism there is a similar line of thought. “What you hate, do not do to anyone” and “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”
At first these seem to be the same as what Jesus says to us today: “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them,” or as some of us may have learned it, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But notice that there is a difference between these statements. In all the others—Confucius, the rabbis, Herodotus—the command is in the negative: don’t do something to anyone that you wouldn’t want them to do to you. But Jesus puts the command in the positive: Do the good things to others that you would want them to do to you. It’s in this active, positive command that we see a great difference in what Jesus tells us to do when compared to the philosophers of the world.
Rather than simply refraining from doing something bad or harmful, Jesus tells us to actively seek the good of others. This informs us how we behave morally and ethically. We don’t only avoid harm, we also actively build up. We don’t only keep from doing something malicious; we also engage in things that we would want for ourselves, on behalf of our neighbors. The Catechism teaches this in the Ten Commandments. For instance, in the 7th Commandment, we not only keep ourselves from stealing from our neighbor; we also help our neighbor protect and improve his possessions and income. In the 8th Commandment we don’t only keep ourselves from lying or gossiping about our neighbor; we also defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. So from Jesus’ command, we learn that keeping from doing bad things to our neighbor is a start, but really we should be actively doing good things for him too.
We would be remiss though, if we did not see more than just a lesson in morals and ethics in our Gospel reading for today. This is the season of Epiphany, and so the words and actions of Jesus are going to be revealing something about God’s character—who He is, what He does, how He has come to us in His Son. The clue that there’s more going on here is found in these words of Jesus: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil.”
Jesus has come to show us God—His will for our lives and our behavior, yes—but also to show us God Himself. He’s come to reveal God’s behavior, His character, His actions, His very heart. For God has not satisfied Himself with sitting in heaven, and just refraining from doing bad things to us. He’s not content with only thinking good thoughts and having nice feelings about us. He’s never thought it enough to keep from being mean or vindictive. God has walked the extra mile, walking to Adam and Eve in the Garden after their fall; walking the entire length of the Exodus with His wayward people; walking the roads of Judea among the sick and poor and oppressed. He’s walked every mile with us. He’s given us all we have. Every good thing we have is from His hand because He is merciful and compassionate. Our food, drink, shelter, clothing, jobs, skill sets, minds—all of it is from His generous hand. He does not expect us to pay Him back for it. For what could we even give in return that isn’t already His? What could we repay Him that He hasn’t already lent to us? The song rings true, “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be.”
And He didn’t stop there. He even has given us Himself. For God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son. And God the Son, Jesus, did good to those who hated Him. He called even the Pharisees and the scribes and the chief priests, Herod and all who made themselves His enemies—He called them all to Himself in order to forgive and bless them, called them to come to Him and receive the light and life He freely gives. And when they refused, when they struck Him on the cheek as He stood before Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin, He offered them the other too. When they took His cloak, He allowed them to cast lots for His tunic also. He gave to all freely—to the wedding guests at Cana who never paid a cent for the best wine they’d ever had; to the Samaritans who had spent the last centuries hiding from Him; to the weak, the poor, the sick, the demon-possessed, the crowds that came to hear Him and take and take and take—He gave to them all the riches of heaven and demanded nothing back. When the final abuse came and He was nailed to a cross, He prayed for those who put Him there, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Yes, Jesus’ words today are more than a lesson in morals for us. They’re a description of what He has done and is going to do for the sake of the world.
I’ve taken up baking for a few years now. One trick I learned is that when you measure flour, you don’t pack the flour down. You simply scoop it up and then knock off any that’s piled up over the line of the measuring cup. If you pack it down, you’ll get too much flour in it and the texture will be all wrong. But that’s not how Jesus measures. He says, “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” That kind of measuring might not make for good bread, but it makes for a beautiful life with Christ and one another. With all that He’s measured out to us and put in our laps—really stop and think about how much that is; we might want for things like an expensive vacation or we may have to save up for big ticket items, but how many of us have really wanted for those things that God gives us to keep us alive and keep life worth living—with all that He’s measured out to us so that our cup is running over, how can we not see that we have more than we’ll ever need? More money, more resources, more time, love, joy, peace, forgiveness. So with the measure we’ve received from God, surely we can measure generously out to others. It’s a joyous circle—God giving richly to us so that we can be generous to others—all revolving around what God has given us through Christ and His cross.
There’s a line in the TV show MASH that plays with the Golden Rule: “It’s nice to be nice…to the nice.” Even the unbelieving world knows that. Even those who know nothing about the God who’s come to us in Jesus know that it’s easy to be kind to people who are kind to you. But we have a higher calling. We have the call of Jesus to follow Him. We learn from Him in His life, at His cross, in His resurrection, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, to the not-nice, to bless those who curse us. It’s not easy—how could it be?—but Jesus Himself won over His enemies with generosity. He fought hate not with demands or anger or vengeance, but with love. That’s even toward us. As St. Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life.” Our God is gracious. He is forgiving. He is love. And we, as children of the Most High, are growing up to look a lot like our heavenly Father. In the name of Jesus, who shows us God’s heart. Amen.