Many people are familiar with the teaching of Jesus Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is often referred to as “The Golden Rule” and can be found even in non-Christian texts that list principles by which to live or ethical rules. And while the Golden Rule can be understood in and of itself [it is a statement which makes sense when it stands alone], it has a greater context in which it is given to us. That context helps us realize the unexpected, even radical, intent of the message. We can read the Golden Rule in its place in Luke 6:27-36 (given here from the RSV):
“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.
And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
The Golden Rule turns out to be one of Christ’s commandments to His followers. It’s not the Golden Ideal or the Golden Guideline, but issued as a commandment to be obeyed. And in its context we see Christ’s Golden Rule is neatly sandwiched between another of Christ’s commandments: Love your enemies, which Jesus repeats before and after the Golden Rule. Jesus fleshes out what loving your enemy looks like – no retaliation, no vengeance, no revenge, not even any schadenfreude. It involves prayer, good deeds, charitable giving and mercy. How would you hope any enemy who had you, or someone you loved, in his/her power – at his/her mercy – would treat you or your loved ones? This is how we should treat everyone at all times. We hope that even an enemy would treat us with human dignity, with respect, fairly, humanely. Christ tells us to do better than that, for He commands us to love the enemy.
Christ’s teaching in Luke 6:27-36 is very straight forward, and yet rarely do those who claim to be staunch biblical literalists use this text as their starting point for defending the inerrancy of Scripture or as the basis for defending a literal reading of the Bible. And perhaps instead of finding biblical texts against homosexuality to use against others, Christians should start with applying Luke 6:27-33 to themselves, literally and inerrantly as Christ commanded us to do.
Christ’s commandment to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” also occurs in the context of the world. Several religious traditions have similar teachings as I saw on a poster once:
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human.
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
Baha’i: Blessed is he who prefers his brother before himself.
If we take the Golden Rule out of its Gospel context, it appears to be nice aphorism, which many philosophers could embrace. But in its context – sandwiched between the repeated commandment of Christ to “love your enemies” – we realize how radical these words of Christ are. Christ is not saying to treat well those who treat you well or from whom you can expect goodness in return or who have already been good to you. Christ is commanding us not to react to others at all, but to always treat others (even- no, stronger – especially strangers and enemies!) with and in love. This isn’t just nice advice for how to get along with friends or to influence other people. It is how to behave to be His disciple and to stay on the path to the Kingdom of God.