The Golden Rule Is the Law? or, “Which way to the narrow gate?”

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. The “log in the eye” comment implies that we all have these gross imperfections which render us unable to correctly view others.
  3. Don’t throw your pearls before swine. I’m actually unsure of how this fits in the overall topic.
  4. “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…”

Why “so?”

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:

  1. To borrow from Paul, “there is none righteous, no not one.”
  2. We are all blinded by our own sins, and if we dare to pronounce judgment on others, we also judge ourselves.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Howard Nowlan wrote
    at 3:40 am - 15th February 2012 Permalink

    Nice. I’ve so often heard Christianity and the golden rule defined as simply an ‘ethical approach’ to things that does us good if we live by it, but when you unpack what’s actually being said, it’s a code that’s less than Jesus is defining here – real love, real need, which asks for mercy and shares that gift. So often we want to ‘lower’ that need to fig leaf righteousness tailored to our own ‘goodness’ (which amounts to stoning others – if only metaphorically, which Jesus shows us is actually just as bad) – the duplicity of the human heart truly knows no bounds. Thankfully, there is grace and aid to remedy this in our total need.

  2. GaryM wrote
    at 11:46 pm - 15th February 2012 Permalink

    I like this post and here are few thoughts…

    In orthodoxy there is a major emphasis on the metaphor as the Church being a hospital. The teaching of the fathers is that we are all sick, blind and deaf as a result of our own sin. This sickness has led us to make horrible judgments about nearly everything, especially our sins and those of our neighbors. This explains why everyone thinks he is right (in his own eyes).

    If were created by God to be his sons and daughters, in what way are we to be like him? I am concluding it is in our choices. He does not expect us to perfect in the way that we conceive perfection, but rather seeks for us to pursue him and his ways. In the process God reveals to us the imperfections in our thinking and we then have the choice to act according to this new belief or understanding and thus become more like him day by day or not. A focus on seeing how perfect God is reveals our own failings which results in repentance. God is our model and he chooses to patiently wait for our decision to turn towards him, to fail, to see the failure and turn again towards him and try again and again, this eventually leads us to ever increasing humility.

    This is why the early theologians and saints all were known for their great humility and Christ likeness.

  3. Steve Martin wrote
    at 2:24 pm - 16th February 2012 Permalink

    “God is our model and he chooses to patiently wait for our decision to turn towards him, to fail, to see the failure and turn again towards him and try again and again, this eventually leads us to ever increasing humility.”

    That doesn’t sound like much of a God, to me.

    I much prefer the God of the Bible who acts…for us. Who chooses us, while we were yet sinners. Who made the decision…for us…on the cross…and in our Baptisms.

    To me, that is a REAL GOD.

    Thanks.

  4. GaryM wrote
    at 4:16 pm - 16th February 2012 Permalink

    Steve,

    Forgive me if my thoughts are poorly constructed.

    Certainly the God of the Bible acts, but have you never noticed that God is always there when you need him most, despite our having made shameful decisions time and time again? How often would we be there for someone who shames or insults us over and over again? But in my experience God chooses to stick around and forgives all if we but ask.

    Why does the God of the Bible love the humble? Those he calls his friends are typically known for their humility. Could it be because these men and women are reflecting his image, becoming like him?

    In my experience, God patiently awaits our turn towards him and then rushes in to encourage us in these healthier/wiser choices. That is not to say that he isn’t moving heaven and earth around us to show us the foolishness of our ways. But he appears to respect our choices and will let us destroy ourselves if we are determined to do so. God appears to me to be modeling how he hopes we will treat others. It takes strength to choose to see our own sin rather than blame our neighbor.

    Certainly God could make us do whatever he wants, but it appears that he chooses a different relationship with his sons and daughters. He seems to value us and this relationship far above anything we can comprehend. I believe he is seeking to work with us, not for us. He has sacrificed everything to make this possible. He is asking us to do the same.

    This life on earth is temporary and provides us an opportunity to learn how to live, how to learn, how to forgive and how to love. He is preparing us for something greater.

    My theology may have holes in it. It probably does. I am a work in progress.

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