Living the Golden Rule

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

This Sunday’s gospel contains what is perhaps the most well-known moral precept of all time, the “Golden Rule” of ethics: Do to others as you would have them do to you (Lk 6:31). We often think of this as a reminder simply to treat others with kindness. Common courtesy is certainly important. But the love of neighbor that Jesus calls us to is anything but common. This becomes clear by reading the rest of this gospel passage.

Our natural inclination is not to treat others the way we want to be treated, but to treat others the way that they treat us. If you respect me, then I’ll respect you. If you are nice to me, then I’ll be nice to you. But if you treat me poorly, if you don’t “earn” my respect, then I have no obligation to treat you well. But Jesus is explicit about this. Loving your neighbor doesn’t mean loving only your neighbor who loves you in return. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them” (Lk 6:32). Jesus calls for us to love our enemies; to love even those who hate us (Lk 6:27-28).

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
- G. K. Chesterton

“Love your enemies” is one of those gospel principles that gets repeated so often the full impact of its meaning can be dulled. What does this mean in practice? It doesn’t mean being buddy-buddy with those who are actively trying to harm you. Jesus doesn’t expect us to abandon common sense. When he says when someone strikes you on one cheek to offer them the other one as well (Lk 6:29), he’s not saying we don’t have a right to defend ourselves. A slap on the cheek is a reproof, not an assault. In modern times we would use the phrase “a slap on the wrist.” We should not only be willing to accept admonishment, but willing to go beyond what is expected.

His other examples follow the same pattern. If someone asks for your cloak, give them your tunic, as well. In other words, if they ask for your coat, give them your coat and your shirt. If someone asks for a loan, not only should we give them the loan, but we shouldn’t expect payment in return. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back” (Lk 6:30). In other words, Jesus calls for us to give without counting the cost and without expecting anything in return.

How can anyone love like this? It doesn’t seem practical. It barely seems possible! In fact, it’s only possible if we become spiritually poor by being detached from things like wealth, status, and material goods, and place our trust in God alone. The love of God is the only good that actually increases in us the more we give it away.

As challenging as Our Lord’s message for us may be to put into practice, the most challenging aspect is this: Stop judging and you will not be judged (Lk 6:37). When people judge us as not being worthy of their love and respect, it can be very tempting for us to judge them likewise. Jesus says we mustn’t do this. Instead, he says, forgive and you will be forgiven (Lk 6:37). To say this is easy. To live it is a challenge. But we must let ourselves be challenged by the gospel and share in the radical love of God, who loves us even when we act like his enemies.

I saw a sign recently that read, “If people can hate for no reason, then I can love for no reason.” Jesus calls us to love those who hate us, but not without reason. The reason to love even someone who hates us is because we love God, and God loves that person. The reason not to judge someone who treats us unkindly is because its not our job to judge them. God is our Judge, and He is a fair, merciful, loving and just judge. You and I will never be a better judge of anyone (including ourselves) than God. So we don’t need to worry about it. We just need to love and forgive, even — and especially — when it’s hard to do.

This is what it means to do to others as we would have it done to us. Treat others the way we want God to treat us. If we want God to be bless us, we must bless others. If we want God to forgive us, we must forgive others. If we want God’s mercy we must show mercy. It’s that simple: simple, but not easy. May the Golden Rule not be a mere cliché for us, but something we truly live by.