Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“’And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.’”
We are all no doubt most familiar with these words of our Lord rendered in St. Luke’s Gospel in his Sermon on the Plain (Lk. 6:17), his version of the Sermon on the Mount. These words of our Lord are frequently referred to as the “Golden Rule.” We are probably more familiar with it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Where that designation came from no one seems to know, but it apparently is conceived as the highest or “golden” standard by which we are to act and be measured. Chances are fairly good, then, that we have been taught this from early on up as the summation of all Christian moral and ethical behavior. The thought being that if you want someone to treat you thusly, you are to treat them in the same way. The Golden Rule is deemed a good rule of thumb for moral and ethical conduct: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
But, there is likewise a negative version of the Golden Rule with which we might be familiar as well. An early version of it is found in our Old Testament Book of Tobit which states, “’Do to no man that which thou hatest’” (Tb. 4:15). The point being that whatever you do not want someone to do to you, then don’t you do it to them.” Some might argue it’s a distinction without a difference, and that may be true. But, the positive version as expressed by our Lord is a more proactive take with an emphasis on doing while the negative is geared more to refraining from or restraining bad behavior. The Pharisees and others like them who are of a more legalistic bent make a living off of hawking this negative approach, something which our Lord counteracts in the Gospel.
Either way, however, the Golden Rule is not uniquely Christian (Tertullian). Many cultures, including pagan ones, have a similar teaching, moreso in the form of the negative version. In many ways, it simply stands to reason: if you don’t want someone to lie to you, defraud you, etc., then, for Heaven’s sake, do not lie or defraud others. What is uniquely Christian, however, is the call of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ to go above and beyond the dictates of logic or common practice, a sort of ‘”your righteousness [must] exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees’” (Mt. 5:20). This comes to light by the Light Himself Who declares a few verses earlier in St. Luke’s Gospel,
‘But I say unto you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on one cheek, offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not back. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise’ (Lk. 6:27-30, 31).
This is the context, then, of the Golden Rule, of our Lord’s guide to Christian conduct in the face of opposition, even persecution or, at least, mistreatment at the hands of others. The Golden Rule is truly about love: love of neighbor who just might happen to be not your biggest fan or friend. In all of this Jesus is saying that His disciples do not repay evil, which is to say, Christians do not practice “tit for tat” (Rm. 12:17-21; 1 Pe. 3:9-17). Scribal and Pharisaical righteousness is based on avoidance, that is, not doing, whereas the righteousness of the Lord that exceeds that of the Pharisees – the righteousness of Jesus embodied in the Church – is that of “hoping [trusting] in God and doing good” (Ps. 36 :3). The Pharisee could very well say proudly, “I haven’t murdered anyone. I haven’t committed adultery with anyone because I have refrained from actually doing so (though I may have considered it in my heart at some point).” The Pharisee – the keeper of the Law – seeks his righteousness through avoidance, just like the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). They both remained pure in the eyes of the Law, but they also did nothing good for or to the robbed and beaten and dying man in the ditch. The thrust of that parable is found in our Lord’s words to do or show mercy.
Act mercifully; be proactive; “overcome evil with good” (Rm. 12:21). Do the good you want your neighbors, especially your enemies, to do. Embody and show forth God’s goodness that is poured out upon sinner and saint alike, upon the good and upon the bad, the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:38-48). This is what makes us sons of our Father in Heaven – sons who feebly imitate and incarnate the very Son of God Himself,
Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously; Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the Tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by Whose stripes [we] were healed (1 Pe. 2:21-24).
This is the perfection our Lord calls us to in His Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s Gospel when He says at the conclusion of St. Matthew’s take on the Golden Rule, “’Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father Who is in Heaven is perfect’” (Mt. 5:48). St. Luke opts to reveal divine perfection is in the form of mercy, be it on friend or foe, but moreso on those who may not repay you in kind or be of benefit to you. “’Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.’”
Do you who bear the imago Dei – the image of God – that distinguishes you from all creation and sets you apart from brute beasts want to be like God, grow into His likeness? Then you have the divine plan here in what our Lord says. We must exceed the common to attain the uncommon. We must rise spiritually, which is the goal of the Christ-life, and not merely avoid sin, as St. Paisios of Mt. Athos points out. If we love those who love us; if we do good to those who do good to us; if we give to those who can return the favor, so what? Who cares? Even sinners, Jesus says, do as much! Where is the credit due you in that? Moreso, where is the grace of God in that? It’s like hedging your bet.
But, what does our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ say? Does He not say instead, “’[L]ove ye your enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return’” – not a thanks, not recognition, not an apology, not some form of re-payment or reward – nothing whatsoever! When we turn the other cheek like our Lord in His Great and Holy Passion, when we bless and do not curse like our Lord, when we pray for those who despitefully use us, we lend to others the very goodness of God Himself. And, what does Jesus promise? God will reward us. God will re-pay us. God will bless us. And, your reward will be great, Jesus says, and we will be the sons of the Most High. “’For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.’” “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jm. 2:13).
Do we want to be like Jesus? Do we wish to follow Him? He has shown us the Way, the Life, and the Truth (Jn. 14:6). And here is the beautiful thing, beloved: “[W]e have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” “For it is the God Who commanded light to shine out of darkness, Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cr. 4:6-15).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
2 Cr. 4:6-15