So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. ~Matt. 7:12
In my last post, I discussed Jesus’ “mount” teaching on the Law and righteousness, and ended with the question, if perfection is unattainable by keeping rules, then how are we to attain perfection? Matthew 7 contains an extension of Jesus’ teaching on righteousness and the Law, and he says a number of very interesting, if not confounding, things:
- We will not be judged according to our actions, but on whether we judge others. This continues the concept introduced in the Lord’s Prayer that we will be forgiven “as we forgive others.”
- The “log in the eye” comment implies that we all have these gross imperfections which render us unable to correctly view others.
- Don’t throw your pearls before swine. I’m actually unsure of how this fits in the overall topic.
- “Seek and you shall find…” The Father will give good things (Luke says the Holy Spirit) to those who ask.
It is at this point Jesus says, “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…”
It seems that Jesus is trying to paint a larger picture for the Israelites than their focus on keeping the fine points of the Law. As we know from other passages, the Jews of that day saw keeping the Law as the highest good, even if that meant ignoring lepers and dying Samaritans, and pronouncing judgment (and even stoning) those who broke the rules du jour (not that different than today, come to think of it).
The picture Jesus paints is this:
- To borrow from Paul, “there is none righteous, no not one.”
- We are all blinded by our own sins, and if we dare to pronounce judgment on others, we also judge ourselves.
- If we want to find the “good things”—things like love, joy, peace and presumably, even righteousness—we don’t have to put others down, we just need to see the Father.
- If we treat others like we would like to be treated, all of the “thou shalt nots” are moot.
Love, then, seems to be the fulfillment of the Law, as opposed to keeping the Law, which when attempted by sinful people seems to only breed more sin (another point for Paul).
The rest of the chapter then seems to make sense, and the famous verses 13-14 take on a slightly different connotation in context:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
What is the “narrow” way? It is not the way of an attempted works-righteousness by keeping the rules at the expense of others, as the “holiness” traditions would have us believe. As unbelievers are quick to point out, there is no love evident in self-righteous attitudes and behaviors. It’s easy to see ourselves as “better than thou” and to pronounce judgment on the “sinners.” What is hard is to ask for mercy, then give it to others.
Jesus then continues to warn of false righteousness: Beware of false prophets, who claim to be righteous but are actually sinners. Not everyone who claims to be righteous will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And finally, the wise build on the rock of the words of Jesus, and the foolish build on the sand of their own attempts at righteousness.
Matthew follows this with several chapters detailing miracles that Jesus performed. Then, at the close of Chapter 11 (our modern designations, of course), Jesus comments on the unrepentance of those cities who witnessed his miracles, then says
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
When looked at as a whole, Jesus’ teaching on the Law is not all that confusing. The narrow way is the way of rest. It may be difficult, but not in the way that is typically preached. The yoke of Jesus is easy. However, giving up our attempts at self-righteousness is difficult. Grace, it seems—living by the golden rule—is a very narrow gate indeed.