“... Do unto others as you would have them do to you ...”
Familiar, but these words in Matthew were not the source of the Golden Rule. It can be traced more than 4,000 years, through Confucius, Greek philosophers, all the way back to ancient Egypt.
Some expression of the Golden Rule can be found in every major religious tradition.
In Taoism, it’s about compassion: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”
In Islam, Muhammed insisted that it be more than deeds: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.”
In Jewish tradition, Rabbi Hillel the Elder taught: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.”
So, you’d think that a Golden Rule pervading the millennia of history and reaching across religions and cultures would have resulted in a better world by now.
Turns out, though, it’s easier to etch these words on plaques than it is to inscribe them in our hearts.
There is another translation of Hillel’s statement that ends, “the rest is the explanation, go and learn.”
“Go and learn” is the hard part, and the gold of the rule is difficult in its mining. We’ve decided it is a lot easier just to plate the words with a shiny thin veneer suitable for framing.
Jesus brought God into the ethical equation. His “Love God” and “love your neighbor as yourself” upped the ante on simply doing unto others.
It’s not a quaint adage for social harmony, but more a demand. He’s pretty clear about this when He tells the disciples “The command I give you is this, that you love one another.”
Somehow that demand has become negotiable, even optional. We find it much easier to love a neighbor who looks like us, thinks like us, acts like us. And, it also helps if they love us first.
We look at the violence, the hatred and the anger and we ask, “Where is God in today’s world?”
Two quick thoughts in response.
First, if God is love, perhaps my own lack of love for others contributes to the perceived disappearance of God.
Second, Jesus taught us that God is realized through encounters of love. I may not be seeing God simply because I am not loving enough to experience that Presence.
I still need to “go and learn.”