There are 613 commandments in the Law of the Torah or Hebrew Bible. That is a lot to keep track of and observe. Jesus was once asked: “Of all the commandments from God, which is the most important?”
Jesus answered immediately:
- The most important command is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Matthew 22:37)
But then he noted the second great commandment:
- Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:38)
With these two commandments, Jesus took volumes and volumes of law and commentary and put it in a few simple words. He put the will of the Almighty Creator of the universe in two short phrases that you can hold in your mind and heart and recall at any time. Any farmer or homemaker, any child or wise man can learn these two sentences and therefore know how to do the will of God.
It was ingenious because it didn’t exclude any of the other laws that God had given to His people. Instead it summed them up. This double commandment was the law and the Prophets in a nutshell. “The Law” referred to the books of Moses and “The prophets” to the rest of the Old Testament. The whole kit and caboodle in condensed form.
But, we don’t do it. Too often, we love God with some of our heart and a little bit of our soul and a fraction of our mind and a portion of our strength when we feel like it. I remember seeing a cartoon of a man being baptized with everything under the water except his wallet.
There is a fascinating book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. This essay is his personal statement of belief, his credo. The idea came to him one day as he putting gas in his car, and he suddenly realized that life doesn’t have to be complicated. All that’s necessary for a meaningful life is really quite simple. In fact, we learned most of it in kindergarten.
His essay includes things such as play fair, share, flush, take a nap every afternoon, and when you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together.
He explains that this is Jesus’ most famous saying of all: the Golden Rule. Most of us learned it when we were very young. I learned it in Sunday school when I was still too young for kindergarten. Each week, as our lesson came to a close, we recited these words together:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Matthew 7:12)
It’s a good lesson for children to learn, and an even better lesson for adults to remember. It may sound like a simple credo, but there’s nothing simplistic about it. And though the words are easy to remember, they’re not always easy to live by. Yet, the person who lives by these words will not only experience a profound change in their own lives, they can also change the lives of many people they encounter along the way.
What’s so unique about the Golden Rule? When Jesus spoke these words, he was actually putting his own spin on what had already become a common saying in Judaism.
- The Jewish teacher Hillel said, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other.”
Mohammed directed his people that ‘Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself’
Sikh tradition teaches ‘No one is my enemy, none a stranger and everyone is my friend.”
Shintoists believe ‘The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form’.
And the one I like the best, from a small African tribe in Nigeria, teaches ‘One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.’
Your life is much different if you follow this rule. For instance, if you’re walking down the street and you see a man who has fallen down, and you say to yourself, “If I had fallen down, what would I want someone to do for me? Pick me up, brush me off, say a kind word, make sure I’m ok, help restore my dignity, and help me on my way.” So, instead of just not kicking the guy when he’s down or ignoring him, you make an effort to pick him up.
Or perhaps you go to work or school, and instead of just not cheating, you say to yourself, “If I were my boss or teacher, I would want my employees or students to put forth a little extra effort, and do their jobs with a good attitude—even when things get a little hectic.” So, you approach your day differently — instead of doing the minimum to get by, you’re willing to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Or when you get home in the evening, you say to yourself, “If I were my child, I would want my Dad to be involved in my life, to play catch with me, or have a pretend tea party, to offer me some encouragement, or just listen to what I have to say.” And it completely changes the way you interact with your family. In fact, it changes every area of your life.
I want to suggest to you four simple tips for living the golden rule:
- Practice empathy and compassion – put yourself in the other person’s shoes and make an effort to understand another person and feel what they are feeling. Be friendly and helpful. Do not retaliate if someone mistreats you.
- Listen to others – very few of us listen. Take time to actually listen to another person instead of waiting for your turn to talk. Don’t criticize – remember how it felt as a child when someone criticized you.
- Overcome prejudice. We all have our prejudices, whether based on skin color, gender, ethnic origin or religion. Try to see every other person as an individual and see yourself in that other person. Find the things you have in common, not the differences
And the most important tip:
4. Say a prayer. Whatever your prayer practices, pray that you can treat others are you want to be treated.
This all sounds so simple. But we all know it is not. It takes:
and forgiving ourselves when we don’t get it right.
All too often we find our own faith communities are not very helpful in this. In my opinion, the greatest failure of organized religion is its inability to convince their own followers that treating each other in a decent matter applies to ALL humans, not just fellow believers!
So I challenge all of us to remember the Golden Rule of your own faith tradition.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:38)
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12)
You, each one of you, can make a difference in the lives of those around you . . .
- in your community and in the world,
to neighbors and strangers,
to co-workers and family.
All it takes is remembering that we are all brothers and sisters – we are ALL EACH ‘OTHER’.
Let us pray a prayer written by Eusebius of Caesarea:
- May I gain no victory that harms me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends who are mad at each other.
May I, insofar as I can, give all necessary help to my friends and to all in need.
May I never fail a friend in trouble.
Delivered at Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH 20 March 2008