Tuesday, October 9, 2012
The Golden Rule
In Matt. 7:12 Jesus lays out for us the basic underlying principle of morality, the precept that has since become known as "the Golden Rule": Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (NKJV).
It is important to note that Jesus here is not saying anything new. The Golden Rule did not originate with Him. Rather He says, "this is the Law [i.e., the Torah] and the Prophets." What He is doing here is correcting a misconception about the nature of morality. The Pharisees of His day tended to put the emphasis on the details of external observance. Jesus, on the other hand, draws our attention back to the basic underlying principles of the Law. True morality is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of genuinely caring about our fellow human beings. True righteousness consists of treating others as we would have them treat us.
On another occasion Jesus elaborated on the principle involved. A certain lawyer (an expert in the Jewish law) approached Him and asked, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). The question has reference to a prophecy in the Book of Daniel to a future resurrection: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,/ Some to everlasting life,/ Some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2). The prophecy in Daniel goes on to say that "those who are wise and those who turn many to righteousness" will be those who "shine" after the resurrection. This naturally raises the question posed by the lawyer, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life"?
Jesus, in response, directed him to the Torah, and the lawyer essentially answered his own question by quoting two passages: Deuteronomy 6:5 ("You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind") and Leviticus 19:18 ("You shall love your neighbor as your yourself"). Jesus then confirmed that this was the right answer.
So far this has been a discussion between two rabbis over the Torah and what will happen during the end times, and there have been no major points of disagreement. But then the lawyer asks another question that brings out the difference in philosophy. His question was this: "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29), as if to say that the persons we are required to live are the persons who met the legal definition of "neighbor." The lawyer was, in fact, missing the whole point of the discussion.
And so Jesus tells another one of His famous stories. A certain man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was waylaid by some highwaymen, who beat him to nearly within an inch of his life, and then rode off stranding their helpless victim. Several travelers pass by, the first a priest, the second a Levite (an important Jewish official). Both of them saw the wounded man, but went on their way without helping him. Finally another traveler comes by, but this one was a Samaritan, a member of a neighboring ethnic group looked down upon by the Jews. The Samaritan saw the wounded victim, and knew he must help. He did what he could to apply first-aid, then transported the victim on his animal, evidently while he walked the rest of the way to Jericho, and then put the man up in an inn at his own expense.
As He finished His story Jesus then asked the lawyer the clinching question: "So which of these three was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves" (v. 36)? The lawyer responded with the obvious answer: the one who showed compassion. Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."
The essence of what our Creator expects from us as human beings is that we love Him with a sincere, heartfelt devotion, and that we genuinely care about each other. When we see someone in need we have a responsibility to assist to the best of our ability and the extent of our resources. That is the whole point of morality.