Sermon on the Mount - The Golden Rule

(Matthew 7:12)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Sermon on the Mount

  • Jesus has been encouraging his disciples to trust in the love of the Father.
  • Then he gives them what has become known as the Golden Rule.
  • He says: “So therefore, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.…”
  • It begins with “So therefore,” a summary statement.
  • Many scholars see this as a reference to the previous sentence. God gives freely; treat others freely.
  • Many cultures have similar sayings.
  • Confucius (ca. 551-479 BCE) says, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”
  • Isocrates (ca. 436–338 BCE) quotes his king, “Do not do to others the things which make you angry when you experience them at the hands of other people.”
  • Epictetus (ca. 55-135 CE), a stoic Greek philosopher, states, “What you avoid in suffering, do not inflict on another.”
  • Leviticus 19:18 states: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • An apocryphal book, Tobit, states: “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.”
  • Legend has it that a Gentile approached Rabbi Hillel (ca 110-10 BCE) and demanded to be taught the whole of the Torah while he stood on one leg.
  • The rabbi responded with, “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole of Torah.” He added, “The rest is commentary. Go learn.”
  • This phrase is not found, per se, in the Old Testament, but is commonly referred to as the Jewish version.
  • Many scholars have pointed out that Jesus’ account is positive, while others are negative.
  • Surely, the intent is the same.
  • In reality, however, the negative form only requires not doing bad things to someone else.
  • A person might fulfill this saying by doing nothing with anyone. In that sense, a person isn’t hurting anyone, but not helping either.
  • So he/she would be “good” by not doing anything.
  • The positive form, which Jesus iterates, requires more.
  • It states that one should do good, go out of his/her way to be helpful.
  • It isn’t enough to avoid harming someone; disciples have to actively engage and help others.
  • Do unto others what “you” would have them do unto to you.
  • That “you” is again emphatic.
  • It stresses the challenge of discipleship. Everything that is given by God is to be done for others.
  • How are we going to do this? We have to enter the other person’s shoes.
  • We have to decide from that viewpoint, a Christian viewpoint, what we would want there, and then do it.
  • Everything is rooted in God’s love for us and our response is to “pay it forward” to others.
  • If this would be the core value for everyone, evil would be dismantled.
  • People wouldn’t have to wonder about what to do, seek the counsel of others, use the courts, or be frozen in fear.
  • They generally know how they want to be treated in any given situation.
  • That knowledge tells them what they should be doing for someone else.
  • The possibilities are deceptively overwhelming.
  • The only question to be answered is “how do I want to be treated?”
  • Experts don’t need to be consulted; appointments don’t have to be set up.
  • The Golden Rule is the core of ethical behavior and it, essentially, requires service to others.
  • This can only be done because the disciple loves God above all else.
  • Jesus concludes his stunning statement by adding “for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
  • The “Law and the Prophets” is another reference to the whole of Scripture.
  • Again, there is some discussion as to the word, “this.”
  • Is he referring to the Sermon as a whole, or this single sentence?
  • Either way, it is a dramatic statement.
  • He could be saying that this Sermon sums up the Law and the Prophets. Think of it! This sermon is the summation of Scripture. What an incredible claim!
  • On the other hand, perhaps he is saying that this one sentence is all you need to know to fulfill the demands of Scripture!
  • Either way, this in no way means that Matthew intends to nullify the rest of Scripture. Rather, he is pointing out that everything is based on this one premise.
  • If you can implement the Golden Rule, the rest of Scripture will fall into place.
  • Disciples will know what to do; disciples will trust in God’s love.
  • Furthermore, the repetition of “the Law and the Prophets” provides another example of a much larger inclusio, that literary framework, which repeats the same phrase at the beginning and again at the end of a section.
  • At 5:17 he states, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
  • His initial goal for the Sermon was to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets, now he is “summarizing” them.
  • Now if the Sermon really stopped here, it would be perfect. We would all have arrived at this point, challenged but encouraged.
  • However, this is not the end.
  • The Sermon keeps on going. Just as the blessings and the call to witness stood as a prologue to the sermon, a series of warnings will serve as its epilogue.
  • Jesus begins this sermon with unqualified tenderness; he will end it with unqualified toughness.
  • This sermon is not an intellectual exercise, a take it or leave it proposition.
  • It is not one among many options.
  • It is the exclusive way to life.

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