Monday Matters (August 22, 2022)


An Egyptian papyrus (from some time between 664-323 BCE) contains an early negative affirmation of the Golden Rule: “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”

In the Mahabharata, the ancient epic of India, the sage Brihaspati tells the king Yudhishthira: “One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one’s own self.”

In the Book of Virtue of the Tirukkarai (c. 1st century BCE to 5th century CE), we read: “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.”

Plato said: “May I be of a sound mind, and do to others as I would that they should do to me.”

From Zoroastrian texts (c. 300 BCE – 1000 CE): “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.”

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BCE – 65 CE), in an essay on the treatment of slaves: “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you.”

Leviticus 19:14: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

Rabbi Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is explanation; go and learn.”

Sirach 31:15 “Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes.”

Nike: “Just do it.”

Accept that you are accepted

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
-Matthew 7:12

What makes the golden rule golden?

For starters, it’s golden because it’s not just a Christian rule. It’s wisdom that has surfaced over centuries and across continents, offering deep spiritual truth on display in examples listed above. It’s a golden reminder of the bonds of the human family, affirming that what we have in common outshines the ways we differ. It’s a message we need to hear these days.

It’s golden because it recognizes that religion is fundamentally about relationship. It’s not about rules. It’s ultimately about how we treat each other.

It’s golden because it’s simple. Like the command to love God and love neighbor. Having said that it’s simple does not mean it’s easy. But it provides a pretty quick and easy test for how we’re interacting in the world, in families, at work, in churches, in traffic, in airport security lines, on social media. Or as Jesus said, in everything.

It’s golden because it invites compassionate imagination. Karen Armstrong, interfaith scholar, has said that compassion is the religious virtue common to all world religions. Compassion literally means “suffering with” or “suffering along side.” That calls for getting outside of our bubble and imagining life from another person’s point of view. That’s a challenge standing before each one of us. Think about the person that really bugs you, or worse. What do you know of the circumstances of their lives? What do you know of their story? What motivates them?

If we can’t arrive at answers to those questions through our own imagination, perhaps we’re called to enter into conversation with those folks, those outside of our communities of agreement. It’s a way of living into our baptismal promises that call us to seek Christ in all persons (Really? All?) and to respect the dignity of every human being (Really? Every?). What can we learn that we didn’t know before? When I think about how I want to be treated, I don’t need everyone to agree with me. I do desire that people listen to me. Shouldn’t I offer that to others?

In all of this, it helps to remember a golden rule from Dorothy Day: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

Jesus’ teaching is golden because as Jesus said and as Rabbi Hillel said, all of the law (and the prophets for that matter) are summed up in this principle. The Hebrew Scriptures detailed more than 600 instructions. Many of them were reflections of the culture of the day, now seeming to be irrelevant or occasionally repugnant. But this thing about considering how we would want to be treated is timeless, not at all culture bound.

You may think of other reasons why this rule has been called golden. I suspect that the important thing to do is to see our interactions through this lens, to run them through this filter, to make them pass this test: Would I want to be treated the way I’m treating this person? Take this week as an opportunity to grow in this way of seeing. It’s a daily practice, one we need to put to work in all things, and as a practice, something that we get better at the more we do it.

-Jay Sidebotham

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