13 March 2014Matthew 7:1-12
"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets." (v.12)
Like every messenger of God, Jesus exposed wrongdoing - people
causing hurt, acting cruelly or violently, or oppressing the poor
(in brief, being evil and wicked).
But he also remained confident about the capacity of women and men to act sensibly and responsibly in their day-to-day relationships. Jesus observed the obvious - that people know how to address their own needs, wants and interests ("Ask and you will receive" etc) - so we achieve the outcomes we look for because we target our energy appropriately. Similarly parents know how to act responsibly towards their children, so as to meet their basic needs and wants (verses 9-10 of our passage).
Human beings can also get beneath the skin of someone else and discern what the needs, wants and ambitions of the other person are likely to be. "If I were in their shoes, I know what I would want..."
It's one thing to understand what another person wants, it's another thing altogether to do anything about it. Jesus moves us from observation to moral choices. Will I treat that other person as I would want to be treated in their position? Jesus makes it clear that that is precisely what God wants. The 'golden rule' (verse 12) is the very essence of all that God has revealed and demanded throughout the Jewish Scriptures. It inspires us to treat our neighbour with mercy and gentleness, patiently, and without being pompous or 'holier than thou'.
God, of course, is not in any sense flawed or ambiguous as human beings are. God is purity and pure goodness. God cannot be less sensible and responsible than a good parent. So God's love and mercy are freely given to those who ask. And God also knows how best to meet the particular needs of each person before they ask, because God understands people from the inside. Disciples of Jesus, wanting to obey the golden rule, will therefore pray to God to help them to do that. Disciples who put into practice the golden rule become the channels of God's love.
- Who are the people you find it most difficult to understand and empathise with? How can your fears and antagonism be overcome?
- To what extent is it possible to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has behaved very badly? Can love and punishment be held together?