Thursday of the First Week in Lent
The so-called Golden Rule has a long history in religious circles. One hundred years before the ministry of Jesus, the esteemed Rabbi Hillel expressed it in a negative way: “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you” (b. Sabb. 31a). Jesus chose to express the same sentiment in a positive way: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). While some might cynically interpret the Golden Rule as based on egoism, the biblical context for both Hillel and Jesus makes clear that they are both speaking of denying oneself in order to help others in a way that, all things being equal, we also would like to be served.
The certitude for this self-sacrificing interpretation of the Golden Rule here in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is made even clearer by Matthew’s reference to the heavenly Father in the previous sentence. “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him? (Matthew 9:11)
This appeal to the gracious action of the heavenly Father shows that we are far from supporting any egoistic limits on our treatment of others. To the contrary, we are invited, indeed commanded, to treat others with the breadth of that divine mercy with which the Heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
That powerful image of divine largesse in creation invites us to open our arms and hearts in a gesture of neighbor-love that pushes us beyond the narrow limits of expecting like treatment in return for our actions. This love is more than humanly noble. Rather, it is love mirrored in the divine gifts, which we celebrate in our faith in Christ.
- Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province