Every now and then, I run into a “modern” version of the Golden Rule, the words of Jesus found in Matthew 7.12: ” So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This modern version is often presented in semi-humorous contexts and goes something like this “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
Unfortunately, it seems that our culture has decided that the humorous “before” is more applicable than the original “to”–since my rights and the privileges and desires that I feel belong to me by virtue of my existence are more important than anyone else’s rights, privileges and desires, I need to protect them. And as we are often told, “The best defence is a strong offence.”
Others, especially others who are or might be different, are a threat to me and what I deserve. Their choices and desires and practises threaten me and my freedom to be what I want to be. I need to ban them, restrict them, overcome them, segregate them, control them–and in extreme cases, maybe even find a way to get rid of them. And if that sounds harsh and hate filled, these are just the headlines that we humans have been reading, experiencing and creating over the years.
Jesus’ words about doing to others fly in the face of socially acceptable norms–norms that are as common and dangerous today as they were in his day–and which go back to the beginning of human awareness. But Jesus knows that our self-focused, insane drive to put ourselves at the centre of the universe only results in pain, suffering, and continual conflict. He calls for a different way.
We do to others what we would like done to us. In one compact sentence, Jesus manages to open the door to a new understanding of self and others. His route doesn’t demand that I ignore myself to benefit others but it also doesn’t demand that I ignore others for the benefit of myself. Jesus calls for me to engage in a conscious dialogue involving me, the other and the situation. There is a fourth aspect to the dialogue but I going to hold off on that for a bit.
I need to know what I want/need in the situation. I need to be aware of myself and my needs and wants. To really carry out Jesus’ call here, I also need to be willing to examine the validity and necessity of my needs/wants–maybe some of what I need/want isn’t all that important and can be sacrificed or at least downsized.
I need to be aware of the reality of the other–what are their real need/wants. That will probably mean I need to engage the other and develop some form of relationship–I can’t really get to know the other from a theoretical point of view. I need to know the other as well as I can.
And I need to know the situation well. If I am lost, hungry and bleeding, what would I need/want? I probably wouldn’t want a Gospel tract, unless it was made of cloth and I could use it as a bandage. I would appreciate directions, first aid and maybe a sandwich although if I am hungry enough, even a pocket-lint covered cough drop might help.
Realistically, that is a major amount of work–and doing it effectively demands that I open myself to the legitimacy of the other as I figure out how to do to them what I want done to myself. In small, clearly defined situations, I can probably do it and might do it. But the bigger the situation, the more complex the needs/wants, the more “other” the other is, the harder the whole process and the more unlikely I am to do it.
And this is where I need to remember the fourth part of the dialogue I am engaged in. I need to involve God. I need to open myself to the Holy Spirit, whose task in my life is to both guide me in my thinking process and strengthen me in the actual doing. To really do as Jesus said, I need the power and help of God. Fortunately, God is both willing and able to give me all the help I need to do to others what I would have them do to me.
May the peace of God be with you.