“Do for others what you want them to do for you.” Matthew 7: 12 (GNB).
One of the best known sayings of Jesus and, with it, the Sermon on the Mount comes to its climax; described by William Barclay as “the topmost peak of social ethics, and the Everest of all ethical teaching”. This Golden Rule – “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you” (REB) – is concerned with the distinctive attitude and behaviour expected of the disciples of Jesus. The Emperor Alexander Severus is reputedly said to have had it written in gold on his wall: a constant reminder, an example and a testimony. There were many parallels to this saying to be found in the ancient literature of religions, the religious and their teaching, but none of them adopted, or were known to quote, the precise words of the text as we have it in the Synoptic Gospels. Practically everything and everyone gave it in its negative form: Do not do to others what you yourself dislike. It isn’t difficult to find rabbinic parallels of the Golden Rule in almost everything Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, but there is no real parallel to it. What we are considering here is new teaching, no one had ever said it before and this new teaching incorporated a new view of life: a fresh, radical and demanding way of life – unselfish love in action.
In the ill-informed opinion of some, Christianity is for softies, an escape from the realties of life and life’s obligations. The Sermon on the Mount dispels the illusion. Pioneering stuff? Jesus set high standards! Yet, strangely, this one gives the impression of being easy. Do as you would be done by! Reasonable and simple? Or is it? It demands getting to know the person next to us. It requires us to put ourselves in the other persons place. It calls for empathy, getting under the skin of our neighbour. Doing to them as we would like them to do to us if we stood in their shoes, although as individuals we might stand poles apart, separated by different attitudes and standards, difference in politics and religion, and so on. Who are we fooling? There is an interesting and apposite American Indian proverb which says, “Suffer me never to criticise another until I have walked for three months in his moccasins.”
For some it might be a surprise and an unexpected revelation to discover that this Golden Rule is not always honoured in the Church. Discipleship can be hindered because of an inability to transcend our differences. Every bit as important is our ability to get alongside folk who make no profession of Christian faith and try to appreciate what makes life tick for them. Alas, many to whom we ought to reach out, regard us as thinking ourselves to be too good for this world and not a bit of good to them.
A concluding quote: “To obey this commandment a person must become a new person with a new centre to her/his life; and if the world was composed of people who sought to obey this rule, it would be a new world.” William Barclay.