21 September 2021
The Golden Rule - Don’t Do or Do?
Is the Golden Rule universal wisdom? Well to some extent – yes.
However, often it is said in the negative - don’t do what you don’t want others to do to you. This seems to be the most common way our society uses “the Golden Rule”. In ancient Greece, Thales counselled, “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing,” and in ancient Egypt it was, “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” Confucius, in the 5th century BCE, said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself. The Chinese founder of Taoism in the 6th century BCE, Lao Tse, says that one should “Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss.”
The Jewish Rabbi, Rabbi Hillel, who taught about the time of Jesus childhood, and probably influenced Jesus and his disciples, interpreted that love of others was the core principle of Jewish teaching. In a collection of his sayings there is a story of him being approached by a person who asked the rabbi for a summary of the religion. Hillel told him: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Law; the rest is commentary.” But Jesus, we find, pushes it further.
Ron Hansen, the novelist, [with an MA in spirituality] comments that in fact, it would seem that all major religions or ethical systems have their own version of the Golden Rule, but he goes on to say that the commandment of Jesus is distinctive and deeper.
“In Mark 12:28-34 a Jewish scribe sought Jesus out to inquire, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied by quoting Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4-5). But then Jesus added a quotation from the Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev 19:18b). “There is no other commandment greater than these,” Jesus said.
We have a habit of overlooking the final phrase “as yourself,” or consider it merely a form of comparison, a measuring stick, even a quid pro quo, on which most other maxims on the love of neighbour rely. But I think Jesus intended that his hearers realize that they are indeed esteemed by God, that Love loves them, and they ought to treat themselves as a favoured child or a prized possession, not in the criminal or addictive behaviors that so often are a reaction to self-loathing”.
“Well said, teacher,” the scribe replied, and his conclusion was that concern for God and one’s neighbour “is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Mark’s gospel was addressed to communities of Gentiles encircled by hundreds of cults and idols, each requiring burnt offerings and the violent sacrifice of animals. So the realization that the Law could be fulfilled in its entirety through compassion, generosity, and the love and worship of God would have been a source of relief, even as it inspired a new sense of personal responsibility.”
And for us - that love which God shows us is shown to be intimately bound up in how we see ourselves and how we respond to others. Some distance further on the journey from just refraining from doing bad things to our neighbour! The commandment of Jesus is turn love into an active verb towards our neighbours. So may we go out and look with love on those around us and see what a difference it makes.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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