“The Golden Rule”
With this passage, Jesus starts a new section of his sermon on the mount. Having first summed up true religion and next focusing on the relationship between intention and outward action, he now proceeds to reveal some of the hindrances of this religion.
The first hindrance or deterrent mentioned here is judging. There is no period of our life where this caution is not needed. The temptations are innumerable, with many so artfully disguised that we fall into the sin before we suspect any danger. But the danger is great – not only to those judged but to the one judging, wounding the soul and exposing the judger to the judgment of God. This act, rooted in bitterness, defiles, divides, and destroys in so many ways.
And so Jesus asks, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own.” To fall into this trap is to notice the infirmities, mistakes, and weaknesses of others in order to avoid seeing such things in ourselves. To ignore our own “damnable impenitence,” our own assured self-will, our own idolatrous love of the world, is to make our whole lives “an abomination to the Lord.” With such carelessness, we dance over the mouth of hell! The true follower of Christ always endeavors to be humble, gentle, merciful, waiting to do good, and patient even with what we deem as evil. By the grace of God, we are called to spend our energy on self-examination rather than judgment.
But what is meant by the phrase, “Judge not?” It is not the same as “evil-speaking.” Evil speaking happens when one is absent. Judgment can happen in a person’s presence. Likewise, judgment does not require speech at all. Even the thinking of another in any manner contrary to love is the judgment that is here condemned. It can manifest itself in many ways – by casting blame when it is not deserved, by proclaiming guilt with no proof and thus committing slander, by questioning intent based on presuppositions that may not be true. Even our thinking judgment can create division and strife. How rarely would we fall into this trap of judging if we took serious the counsel of our Lord to go to those whom we believe have trespassed and to talk directly to them.
Now, suppose that you have been, by the grace of God, able to remove the log from your eye and are able to clearly see the speck, or the log, in another’s eye. To point out this object is often to make matters worse for yourselves and to lead you back into sin. If one is not ready to hear, such judgment can create a barrier rather than a bridge. Our zeal can lead them, and us, back into darkness. Therefore, let this hindrance of judgment be removed. Open your heart to God’s love as it leads us to love others. In this movement, we discover the whole treasure of holiness and happiness.
Jesus follows this with some hard sayings that need some unpacking, and seen through the lens of God’s love. He says, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs or cast your pearls to the pigs.” As we seek to serve God, don’t take love and turn it into self-righteous judgment. Don’t take what is holy and turn it into something profane or divisive. And then, at a practical level, don’t take the holy mysteries of God and try to give them to those who first need to know the basics – that God loves them and is there for them. Feed others with what is needed.
Be very careful about applying these sayings to other people. Be very reluctant to make this judgment about any other human being. It is possible that others are so full of greed, anger, and love of the world that they will not be able to hear and even turn against those who try to share the good news. Nevertheless, our calling is to share, and to especially focus on the next exhortation: Pray! To neglect this calling is another great hindrance to holiness. If all else fails in our efforts to share the good news with others, focus on this. Whatever you desire, as it connects to God’s desires for us, ask and it shall be given; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.”
Ask for what? To be whom God calls you to be. “O how meek and gentle, how lowly in heart, how full of love for both God and humanity, might you have been on this day, if you had only asked – and continued in this prayer.”
Next, seek! And do so in the way God has ordained for us – in searching the scriptures, in hearing God’s word, in fasting, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In this seeking, you will find. You will find that “pearl of great price,” that faith that overcomes the world, that peace that the world cannot give, that love at the heart of our inheritance.
Knock and the door of mercy, of holiness, of righteousness, of heaven shall be opened to you. Do not stop until this way is opened before you and you have the opportunity to explore all the blessings of God’s kingdom. The idea of persistence is implied in all three of these verbs: Continue asking, seeking, knocking. Be constant in the prayer that our hardened hearts would continually be softened by the compassion of our Lord, and that we would continue to find “the love and the image of God.”
Jesus proceeds to illustrate by pointing out how we give good things to our children when they ask. If a child asks for bread, we do not give a stone instead. If a child asks for fish, we don’t give a snake. How much more then will God give to us blessings of pure goodness. As explained in Luke’s account of this story, God will give the Holy Spirit to us, which means all wisdom, peace, joy, love, indeed all the treasures of holiness and happiness. That’s what comes to those who continually ask, seek, and knock.
Next, Jesus makes an important connection between prayer and how we treat others. There is a connection! We cannot expect to receive blessings from God while we fail to be charitable to our neighbors. We need to work at removing this barrier. Thus, Jesus immediately follows this word about prayer with the golden rule, the royal law of mercy and justice, a law which many believe to be engraved on the minds of everyone. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
This rule can be understood in a positive or negative sense. In the negative sense, we don’t like it when others judge us, or causelessly think evil of us, or publish our faults and infirmities. Don’t do this then to others. Positively, we would hope that all would respect us and behave towards us with justice, mercy, and truth. Let us live by this same rule. Let us love and honor all.
Do this and live! And to truly love in this way, we must observe that it is all but impossible without the transforming love of God. We are able to love because God first loved us. Receiving the love of God empowers us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Being able to love starts with faith. First, believe in Christ. Next, hear the Spirit of God bear witness that you are a child of God. Then your faith will work by love. It will then be your glory and your joy to increase this love in the world. Amen.