A reflection by Fr. Idara Otu, MSP, on Matthew 7.7–12
The Golden Rule is often described as the most universal and consistent ethical principle in human history. It is present in diverse cultural ethos, secular philosophies and faith traditions. For example, among the Ba-Congo people of Angola, the Golden Rule is expressed in the proverb “O Man, O woman, what you do not like, do not do to your fellows.” Among the Salish nation of North America, the Golden Rule finds expression in the words of Chief Seattle: “Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand of it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” Written in the Talmud is a story of Rabbi Hillel who said to a non-Jew, who asked to be taught the whole Torah, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Central to these and many other literary expressions of the Golden Rule is the emphasis on the value of mutuality, interdependence and reciprocity.
In today’s gospel, Jesus taught his disciples “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” This declaration is the summit of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus wants his disciples to value fraternal reciprocity and to allow love to govern their relationships with each other. The Golden Rule as articulated by Jesus confers on Christians an obligation of “agape” towards fellow humans, irrespective of religious, ideological, socio-political and cultural differences. There are neither conditions nor limits to the practice of this Christian imperative. It is a rule that transcends all times and places. It is valid for all seasons.
But sometimes, we do not always live out the Golden Rule in the way we treat others. We rarely pause to think about how our actions and words impact others. The Golden Rule demands that we step into the shoes of the other and ask ourselves “Would I wish to be treated in the same way?” Jesus Christ stepped into the shoes of humanity through his incarnation. Since Christ understands the human condition, he treats us with love and responds in love when we pray. In prayer, we enter into communion with God through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not a communion in which God is unaware of our needs and situations. Rather, the presence of God is illumined in every situation, grace is given to every struggle, doors are opened to new possibilities, and a good gift is granted to each request – all this, simply because God treats us with love.
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” The Golden Rule is a rule for all seasons and Lent is not an exception. Lent is a time for spiritual renewal of our relationships with God, with creation and with fellow humans. As we continue on our Lenten journey, we are invited to reflect on the Christian commitment to treat every human person with love and dignity. Perhaps the starting point for this reflection would be to ask ourselves: “Do I treat others as I would like to be treated?”