In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.Matthew 7:12 (NRSV)
If we all did unto others as we would have them do unto us, the world would be in much better shape. Just imagine how the great toilet paper crisis of 2020 could have been avoided. On a more serious note, just imagine how race relations would be much different now had we been “doing unto others” all along.
“Do unto others” sounds like a simple concept, and it is . But it is not easy. We have a way of turning things around to still be about us. The selfish path is always the easy path.
But can the “Golden Rule” ever be followed in a selfish manner? Yes, let me give an example. Suppose I found that peanut butter squares give me great comfort during this pandemic. Wanting to do a good thing, I may want to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and send all my neighbours peanut butter squares. But what if my neighbours are allergic to peanuts?
You see, I have just done unto others as I would have them do unto me as if they were me. I have not been sensitive to their situation and needs. I still managed to make it about me and my needs. Instead, I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me, if I were them, walking in their shoes, living their lives.
We can think we are “doing unto others,” yet still be oblivious to the needs of the others. To actually put into practice the teaching of Jesus we need to be sensitive to those needs.
There is therefore a step, which is not explicitly stated, but is necessary to fulfil the spirit of what Jesus is teaching us here. It is taking a step down a path of understanding. This is necessary if we want to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we were in their shoes, in their skin, with their history, with their experiences of life.
I don’t know what it is like to grow up in a home with alcohol abuse, or abuse of any kind. Being white, I don’t know what it is like to be man of colour and face racism. Being a man I don’t know what it is like to be a woman and face sexism. Being straight, I don’t know what it is like to be a gay person and face discrimination or bullying. I don’t know, and I can’t pretend to know, but I can set out on a journey of understanding.
With the COVID crisis and church gatherings being cancelled I had the opportunity to deliver the video version of this sermon from somewhere I have never delivered a sermon. I “preached” it while sitting in a pew. Sometimes we preachers need to sit in the pews. We need to grow in our understanding of the Bible, yes. We also need to grow in our understanding of people. People have sat in those pews who understand what it is like to live in a broken home, with an abusive partner, or with an alcoholic parent. People have sat in these pews who understand what it is like to experience racism or sexism, or both. People have sat in these pews who understand what it is like to be attracted to the same sex, and to pray for a change that never comes.
The path of understanding requires a posture of learning. Learning requires listening. Listening requires not speaking. Listening requires that we all get down from our pulpits, for we all preach, and listen intently to the people in the pews, and those who would not dare enter the sanctuary. Listening may require closing our Bibles for a moment, so that we give others our undivided attention as they teach us about themselves. Only then can we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we were them, in their shoes, in their skin, living their lives.
Doing unto others is the more difficult road, the “road less travelled,” to borrow an expression. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus says next:
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.Matthew 7:12-14 (NRSV)
We are trained to automatically think of salvation in terms of eternal life when we read about the narrow gate and wide road. We then ask if we are on the narrow road that will get us to heaven. But consider if Jesus is telling us about a salvation that includes abundant life as well as eternal life. The question then becomes whether we are on a narrow and difficult road that leads to a greater experience of life in our world, or are we taking the easy road, the self-focused road, the one that leads to harm?
When we travel down that path of understanding others, it leads to greater life, in all areas of life. It lessens our tendencies toward racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. However, when we go down the broad road of self-centredness, an easy road that many take, we find that it leads to destruction within relationships and so much more.
Doing unto others is the more difficult path, the path Jesus took for us:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
You could say that in Jesus, God came down from his pulpit, and spent time in the pews. God understands our brokenness, our inability to get back to God. He brings us back to Himself. He took the difficult journey of the cross. He did unto others, He will do unto you.
“Do unto others” is not just a nice platitude we hang on a wall. It is difficult and narrow path, a journey of understanding that requires a posture of learning. It requires getting beyond ourselves. It is loving others as God has loved us.