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The Golden Rule [in context]

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

The Golden Rule [in context]

Tom Elenbaas

Jesus says some really hard things. At one point, leading a very attractional attractive ministry, one by one over the three years of his public ministry Jesus gets less and less popular. His followers slowly peel away as he says more difficult things. Even his closest followers in the end betray and abandon him.

But here’s the interesting thing. Ever since those early days, Jesus has been heralded as one of the greatest, wisest teachers in all of history. In Islam, Jesus (commonly transliterated as Isa) is one of God's highest-ranked and most-beloved prophets. Most religions see Jesus as coming from God - a holy man, wise, a great teacher, and a person to be emulated. Even among those who reject Christianity, very few people reject Jesus.

Let me ask you a question: Do you know the golden rule?

Of course you do. Even if you're not a Jesus follower, you know the Golden Rule. 

Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:31

But do you know the context it comes in? 

Before I go there, over the last month we have seen tragedy after tragedy. We saw 50 people killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando; the shooting of Philando Castille in Minnesota; the killing of Anton Sterling in Baton Rouge; the shooting of 11 officers in Dallas ending in 5 deaths; and this doesn't even include the many unreported shootings throughout our country in the past month. 

If you watch the news or have been on social media, you’ve seen the responses: fear; hatred; really harsh words; justifications; name-calling. And then you have that sinking feeling that it will happen again… maybe when you wake up tomorrow morning and turn on the morning news, and the fear that this time it might happen to someone you know.

What do we do? Some would say that we should take away guns. Other more moderate voices will call for stricter weapons legislation for the purchase of firearms. Some would call for banning entire religious groups from entering our country. Maybe in your conversations, someone has had other ideas. I know this… every time one of these events happen I get emails and phone calls and have conversations about letting people carry guns in our churches. We get scared; we want a solution; we want to be safe. And that’s normal.

Whether you have reacted in fear or not, I hope, honestly, that you found yourself responding emotionally - in tears, in anger, disappointed… because it shows your humanity.

But sometimes these national events can seem so far away, so disconnected, so “not my world.”

So let me tell you a story from my world. In 7th grade, I had a bully in my life. He would sit in front of me in one of my classes, and every day before class would start, he would turn to me and copy my homework, then give it back. It didn't affect my grade (it did bring his up!), but it did affect me. I felt powerless; I was afraid. We know bullying is a big deal and I'm thankful when and that schools are addressing it. My kids have been bullied, sometimes on the playground, sometimes on the bus, and sometimes even in cyberspace. I like new initiatives like "Be Nice" day at school. Why? Well because the power differential in relationships hits us in the core of self-image. I read another heart-wrenching story this week of a teen who took her own life because of social media bullying.

So, let me ask my question again: Do you know the Golden Rule? And do you know the context in which it was written? Let me show you.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:27-36

 

Let me go back to my bully.
What do you think I wanted to happen to him?
I wanted vengeance. 
I wanted something to happen to him because of what he had done to me. 

You see, when something happens like this, we have a couple of options:

  1. Do Nothing.
  2. Seek Justice. (Tell the teacher; get him suspended.)
  3. Exact Vengeance.

But I couldn’t do it. I was a scrawny little fly-weight just barely over 100lbs. So one day, when he asked for my homework, in my great act of defiance.... I ripped up my own homework into small pieces and through it in the trash. Sometimes our non-violent acts of protest aren't heroic at all, they're just simply expressions of an inability to do anything more powerful. I wanted vengeance, but I just couldn't do it.

So my brother did!

I'll spare you the story, but basically, when my brother heard the story and saw my tears (tears as much about the incident as they were about getting a bad grade) and the next time he saw my tears he did what so often a good brother does - he defended me. And we feel a sense of justice about that, don’t we?

Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.
— Lex Talionis, Leviticus 24:17-22

Lex Talionis is the Latin word for what is known as the Law of Retaliation. You can read about it in Leviticus 24:19-21. This law, believe it or not, was actually a way to make things better. You see, like you and I, the people of the time wanted vengeance; and out of anger, they would do worse things than were done to them. This is the Hatfields and McCoys… you do something to me, I’ll do it worse to you. I'll up the ante and the thing escalates. Or this is classic Israel and Palestine tit-for-tat. After an Israeli attack several years ago killing two and wounding 27, then Israeli Prime Minister said, “Israel will not restrain its troops from retaliating against militants, despite U.S. efforts to push forward the peace plan.” And, likewise, a Hamas Leader said this: “The Hamas response will be like an earthquake. An eye for an eye … a politician for a politician.”

This is human nature, isn’t it? You hit me, I hit you back, you hit harder, I hit harder, everybody's crying and mom sends us into the corner. So, in Leviticus, this rule is made to keep people from doing too much harm. It’s a guideline for judges so that the punishment fits the crime, so that the sentencing is fair. You can find this in several other places in the Old Testament as well. My favorite is this one from Judges 1 when Adoni Bezek gets his big toes and thumbs cut off, and he personally basically says, "Well, that's about right. I got what I deserved."

Seems like a pretty good rule. In parenting don't they call it "Natural consequences?"

Later on, the famous Rabbi, Rabbi Hillel, goes further and gives what is now called the Negative Golden Rule (FYI I know the attribution is contested, but that's not the point here): “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah (law), while the rest is commentary thereof.” Hillel was basically saying that even doing back to others what they've done to you isn’t necessarily ok, healthy, or godly. This is a step in the direction of forgiveness and grace. But Jesus takes it one step further. Look what he says in Matthew chapter 5:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
— Jesus, Matthew 5:38-39


By the way, if you are right handed, and you hit someone on the right cheek, what do we call that? Backhanding someone. It’s a backhanded slap Jesus is talking about. This type of slap was seen by the Jews as even twice as offensive and demeaning as a regular slap. Jesus says, "When that happens, turn the other cheek." It’s like Jesus is saying, “If someone REALLY insults you…” turn the other cheek to them as well.

This goes so against the grain of how we feel. We want vengeance. At least we want justice.

But Jesus does something we’re finding is pretty normal for Jesus. Jesus confronts and exposes our assumptions about how the world works.  The question is, do you trust him enough to follow him even after he’s told you what you don’t understand and may not immediately believe?

It’s this kind of teaching we find in Luke 6 to those of us who are still listening. 

But to you who are listening I say:
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6:27-28

In fact, it’s the same teaching as in Matthew 5… Jesus then goes on and says very similar things to what Matthew records:

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
Luke 6:29-30

It is then that Jesus gives the Golden Rule… out of THAT context!

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Luke 27:31 in context

Is it possible that the Jesus way is actually THE way forward? Is it possible that, as GK Chesterton says, "The Christian faith has not been found tried and wanting, it has been found difficult and untried." What would really happen if we did just those four things:

  1. Love our enemies;
  2. Do good to those who hate us;
  3. Bless those who curse us;
  4. and Pray for those who mistreat us? 

What if the pretext and the context of the Golden Rule is to Love our enemies, Do Good to those who hate us, Bless those who curse us, and Pray for those who mistreat us? What if it really is about living differently, being a different kind of tree with a different kind of fruit, a light in the darkness, a walker of a different path, a different kind of person living in a world that wants vengeance and justice and violence and prison and capital punishment and just desserts?

Are you still listening? Are we? Is Jesus on to something?

Tell you what. It’s not just with the bully in middle school. I’m tempted to do three things to my enemies, to those who hate me, to those who curse me, to those who mistreat me.

  1. I’m tempted to do nothing. This is to give in to apathy, to helplessness, to ignoring evil hoping it go away.
  2. I’m tempted to exact vengeance. But this creates cyclical violence and makes things escalate, makes them worse.
  3. I’m tempted to demand justice. The truth is, justice important, but in the end never really satisfies.

So, honestly, the normal human responses leave me at a loss. My assumptions about how the world works leave me with few answers on how to deal with either my enemies close at hand or enemies far away, with the playground bully, the social media cyber bully, or the radicalized terrorist.

Jesus says that he has another way, a way that confronts the assumptions we make about the way the world works. His way is a hard way; his way is the road less traveled, a narrow road; but honestly, maybe it really is the right way.

Love your enemies.
Do good those who hate you.
Bless those that curse you.
Pray for those who persecute you.
Give in ways you can’t imagine and keep on giving.
Do to others what you would have them do to you.

So simple, and so profound.

And you know what makes it even more profound?

There was a day when Jesus had enemies, people cursed him, and persecuted him.
There was a day when Jesus was hit across the face.
There was a day when Jesus had his cloak taken from him.
There was a day when Jesus was asked to give without asking in return.
It was the day he was taken to the cross.
On that day, Jesus did for others what he wished they would do for him… in great and abundant love.
And as Jesus hung on that cross – the ultimate victim of enemies, haters, curses, and persecutors, he prayed these words over those who persecuted him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The reason that even those who don’t believe in Jesus still think Jesus is great is because no one, no one can explain that kind of love. Jesus invites us into a new kind of love, a victorious, resurrection, gospel, good news type of love that says NO to apathy, NO to violence, NO to vengeance, and NO to exacting justice but says YES to love, YES to doing good, YES to blessing, YES praying, and YES to giving. 

A BETTER WAY

Don’t be mistaken, Jesus is not inviting us to ignore or accept evil. Jesus is not asking us to stay in abusive relationships or to coddle our abusers. Instead, Jesus is showing us an entirely new and better way to oppose evil.

Instead of answering evil with evil, we answer evil with good.  
Instead of covering darkness with more darkness, we invade darkness with Light!
Instead of hiding from persecution, we face it with the power of blessing and doing good and the power of the resurrection.

This isn’t some ancient version of, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” This is Jesus telling us to live radically by invading the world with outrageous love! What the world needs now is a people - a different people - a people who will stand up and shout from the microphone not that we need a bigger wall or to take away guns or to alienate Muslims, but a people who will love, do good, bless, pray, and give in ways the world cannot comprehend. What the world needs now is a people who are willing to follow the most selfless man that ever lived, who loved his enemies, turned the other cheek, gave up his cloak, gave up his life, and prayed over those who took it all from him, knowing full well that he would give back more than they could imagine. What we need is not more apathy, more vengeance, or even more justice. What we need is a people who are willing to follow the way of Jesus in ways that not even we can fathom.

Why? Because you don’t have to settle for doing things like the world does.
You can be children of the Most High.

MAKING IT PERSONAL

Who do you need to love, do good, bless, and pray for? First of all, I want you to know that you are not alone. Jesus does not just ask us to live beyond ourselves and then leave us alone. Instead, he gives us the power of his Holy Spirit to do the thing we don’t want to do, don’t think we can do, and honestly probably can't without his power: to forgive the person who hurt you; to love the person who hates you; to do good to the person who slighted you: the boss, the neighbor, the ex-wife or ex-husband, the dad, the brother, the ex-best friend, the bully on the playground, the person that hurt you in places deeper than your pain can find words.

It may just be possible that Jesus is right about love, and that Peter - arguably one of Jesus’ best friends - was writing what he learned from Jesus when he wrote in one of his letters, that “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

A few weeks ago, I looked at the photo of Omar Mateen and felt at first a black hatred in my heart. I've felt it again in recent news stories. But, I have been convicted by the Holy Spirit that this hatred is nothing but destructive and that these words of Jesus are where we find life. I came to a point where I had to ask myself, “Who else’s picture causes those kinds of feelings in my heart.” 

Jesus has words for us this week, and I think those words are for all of us if we’re still listening:

  • Love.
  • Do good.
  • Bless.
  • Pray.
  • Give.
This blog post is a modified written version of a message preached in the Still Listening series at Jamestown Harbor Church on the week following the Orlando Pulse shooting. Unfortunately, a technical glitch made the podcast unuseable.

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