Jesus in today’s verses gives us the Golden Rule for life, and reminds us of the consequences if we disobey the rule.
Jesus did not actually invent the golden rule. In Matthew he is summarizing the Old Testament, specifically two verses written around 1300 years before he was born. Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:34 says, “Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
Did you know that all religious traditions and most ethical traditions have this same rule? Many prominent philosophers such as Confucius taught the same idea.
Jesus taught a positive version of the rule – “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”
The Golden Rule is for us to live by all the time. It is for couples like Peter and Mia who are trying to learn how to be good parents. It is for all of us as we struggle to be loyal and faithful followers of Jesus.
There was once a woman who whenever her family had a box of chocolates grabbed it first, before anyone else could get to it. She would remove all of the hard-centred chocolates and eat them all without ever sharing one.
This went on for years. She would never let anyone else eat a hard-centred chocolate. One day when her oldest daughter was a teenager the injustice just got to be too much and she confronted her mother over this selfish behaviour. She did it calmly and asked her mother why she always confiscated the hard centres and ate them all herself.
The answer surprised her. Rather than being defensive, her mother explained that it was because she didn’t like the hard centres. She wanted to leave the delicious soft centres for her beloved children. Unfortunately, she had not realised that her children loved the hard centres.
This is an example of how not to apply the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule is not telling us to be pushy parents who force our children to do what we would like to do. It is not saying that because we like to watch football we should force our children to watch football.
It is saying that since we like the freedom to choose what to watch, we should extend that freedom to others. Because we like to have our opinions respected, we should respect the opinions of others.
Jesus says this is the core of the law and prophets. It is the whole of the Old Testament wrapped up into one. If you can get this right, you’ve got it all right. The great rabbi Hillel, who lived at the same time as Jesus, taught that everything else was commentary on the Golden Rule. In other words, all the other rules and laws and wisdom in the Old Testament were just guidance on how to live by the Golden Rule.
Jesus warns in verses 21-23 that on judgement day many people will come before God and present a long list of all the things they have done for him. And God will say he never knew them because they didn’t live by the Golden Rule.
This is a rule for every situation and every circumstance. It is a rule for being a good parent, and good worker, a good teacher, a good anything you are. It is a good rule for a community, a family, a fellowship, a nation.
The more seriously we apply this rule, the more adventure we shall have in our lives. Where love is our priority, there is always more to give. It was the opposite of what the Pharisees taught. The Golden Rule is all about relationships. Our relationship with God. Our relationship with our fellow human beings, and by extension all of God’s creation.
Positive holiness is a lot more than just avoiding sin. Jesus urges us to embrace a higher righteousness of purity of heart and self-giving love.
The Golden Rule requires us to take the time to tailor our expression of love for the individual. Our love has to be precise and personal, as we seek how in this relationship with this child of God we can express the love we want to receive in a way that will being the great joy we want for ourselves.
We who want to receive love must give love. We who want to be forgiven must forgive. We who want to be trusted must trust. We who want to be respected must respect. And Jesus says we should do it all gently and with consideration of the individual.
Living by the Golden Rule is a lot harder than telling everyone to eat fish because you like fish.
The context for the Golden Rule, which is basically describing the way brothers and sisters should relate to each other, is the fatherly love of God. We cannot be judgemental. We have mercy as God has had mercy on us. And these relationships are reciprocal and connected. If we have trouble applying the Golden Rule it will damage our relationships with our children, spouse, parents.
And if we have trouble in our relationships with our family it will impact our relationship with God. The better our relationship with God, and the more we appreciate his patience and grace and mercy towards us, the better we shall be at applying the Golden Rule.
We are here today to learn how to develop these relationships. We are not here because we are already good at these things, but because we are rubbish at them and know we are rubbish at them and want to be better.
Peter and Mia didn’t promise to raise Eileen as a follower of Jesus because they are great followers of Jesus. They did it because they have discovered the value and the truth of this way of life, and they want to help Eileen discover it for herself.
Words of affection, comfort, praise and affirmation make a deep and life-changing impact on our children. They need us to tell them how much we love them, not only when they please us but also when they least expect it.
Speaking like this requires unselfishness on our part. We have to put aside our own agenda, our tiredness, our frustration with the messy bedroom, our disappointment at the terrible report, in order to take the time to think of something kind and positive to say. We will have to bite our tongue at times; but we will be astonished at the difference that a little encouragement can make to our child. Speaking this language of love will fill up the emotional tank inside.
None of us had perfect parents, and so none of us had a perfect training for life. Our parents got some things right and some wrong. Sometimes they did the right things in the wrong way. Now we are adults and it is our turn to live life. We are not properly prepared for it. So we get together with other people who are trying to live life better according to the teachings of Jesus, and we meet together on Sunday and during the week to help each other live by the Golden Rule.
I ask you to please forgive me for my many mistakes and failures as I struggle to live the way Jesus taught. I urge you to forgive each other as you all make mistakes. Mistakes are just part of the learning process. Don’t worry about them. Forgive and try again.
Let’s support each other and love each other.