These three words begin what is perhaps on of the most well known statements of Jesus known by countless people around the world, what has become known as the Golden Rule. The full line, for those who may not know is simply, “Do Unto Others what you would have them Do Unto You.” With this simple statement, Jesus calls upon his disciples to move beyond the passive faith of their ancestors to a proactive faith of action and engagement. While there are those that would contend that Jesus statement is nothing but a slight re-working of an ancient principal found in several faiths, which is the negative version of this rule which basically says, “do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”
On the surface, these two statements may seem to be saying the same thing, but on closer examination, they are clearly not. The second statement is much more “legal” in its construction and application. Basically, all one has to do to follow it is NOT do something. While some people find it difficult not to do something, it is easier in most cases than doing something. For instance, the person following this would say I wouldn’t like a person being mean to me, so I won’t be mean to that person and that’s the end of the requirement. There is no call to be nice, to be kind, to be helpful, just don’t be mean. You can be short yet civil, and still be in perfect compliance. In short, there is no requirement to DO anything, nor to give but so much consideration to the other person beyond that first thought. For a more extreme example, someone deciding not to attack someone is following this rule, even if they never had any desire to attack someone. By the simple act of not acting, they are following it. So it basically requires a simple acceptance to normal civil behavior we expect from everyone, but nothing more.
Now for what Jesus said. Jesus changes this because instead of just instructing people to maintain the basics of civil society, he structs them to go further. Don’t just “not” do something, but actually do something. Don’t think about how you DON’T want to be treated but think about how you DO want to be treated. This moves someone from being passive to being active, and from thinking primarily about themselves and to think about the other person. Using the other example, saying I won’t be mean because I don’t want the person to be mean is pretty straightforward and requires little of me. But for me to say, now I am going to actually do something and be kind requires me to consider what is the kind thing and what is the kind thing for that person. I have to put effort into what I do, what I say and so forth. Not only will I not attack the other person, but I will help them if they are attacked. This is the radical difference and this is faith in action.
Now that I am going to attempt an active faith I have to be well…active. I am called on to do something, to be kind, compassionate, helpful, friendly, gracious, compassionate and so forth. Now the next part gets a bit harder. Not only am I called on to DO these things, I am called to do them regardless of the actions or behaviors of the other person. This fits in perfectly with Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I must choose to do the things based on my intention to do it and act and behave that way, not because the other person is really nice, or I like them, or I am hoping to get something, but simply because it’s what I am supposed to do. It is the right thing and just as Jesus was gracious and merciful to me when I didn’t deserve such treatment, so, too, must I be that way toward others… well at least if I want to follow Jesus anyway.
In a time when much of the world is in chaos, let us find ways where we can put this into practice. What are ways we can be caring and compassionate toward others? How can we think of others and make choices that not only benefit ourselves, but others as well? What if we made choices that actually put the other person first and I was willing to sacrifice something I have so another may be better off? These are the very thoughts and actions this commandment should drive us to, and hopefully those thoughts will turn into actions as we submit to the Holy Spirit and grow in faith and closeness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.