The Golden Rule
Five centuries before the birth of Jesus, a Greek philosopher named Anaximander (A-nax-a-mander) is said to have created the very first map (geographical map) of the known world.
It was very simple and crude by today’s standards, for sure. It pictured the world in 2-dimensions... as a flat, pie chart... with the land divided into thirds - Europe, Asia, and what he called “Libya” (Africa).
And, in the very center of the map stood Greece...
Of course, it’s no mystery as to why Anaximander placed his home - his country - himself - in the center of the world on his map! Even today... when China creates a map, China is front and center. If Russia makes a map, Russia is the center of the world!
We all have a knack for putting ourselves front and center!
For proof: just look around yourself. Everywhere you & I turn... we are in the middle of the world we see. We are the center of our own reality.
The fact is both geographical and psychological... it’s both spatial and cognitive... we measure the world by what we experience of the world.
In other words, our point of reference is everything. We naturally, and even unintentionally, begin from our individual points of view. And beginning there is no problem! It’s when we stay there... it’s when we can’t - or when we refuse... to see the world from any other perspective, that causes us trouble.
Jesus knew our very human tendency to be self-focused - and he addressed it. Calling us, as his followers, to reach beyond our natural tendencies and inclinations, and... instead of being self-centered... to be God centered... and God focused.
Of course, when you’re feeling persecuted, harassed, or facing opposition, your first instinct isn’t to respond with a blessing.
If someone curses us... our FIRST instinct (most of the time) is to curse back. If we experience hate, our tendency is to hate back.
But... Jesus says in Luke 6:27-29, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also...” and then he says:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” It’s the Golden Rule!
And it sounds wonderful! Especially if I’m the one doing the hating! If I’m the enemy, I want others to respond to me in love!
But who does that? Not many people... not in my experience! When someone comes at you... filled with anger... spewing venom... when someone hurts you, it’s natural to respond in kind.
But Jesus says the response of a Christian should be different. The way you and I, as followers of Christ, respond is what sets Christians apart and marks us as different. And if you and I can’t be distinguished from those who live by the ways of the world, it may say something about who and Whose we really are.
Jesus never said it was natural or popular or easy to follow him in obedience. It’s hard when you’re bombarded with hateful speech... when “friends” on social media promote their political ideology as being correct and trample all over opinions that you hold most dear. When commentators spout division... when elected leaders call one another (and us) names... and when we hear stark and offensive language from preachers and friends and family. We live in a world of instant response... “Tweets” are flying everywhere... which leads to a whole lot of “open mouth, insert foot.” And it leads to a whole lot of hurt feelings and broken relationships.
And it’s to that world, that our Savior and Lord calls us to measure our response. To be “quick to listen... but slow to speak.” (James 1:19)
It takes a lot of courage and maturity to do those things! Anyone can retaliate or say something mean back.
But, God wants what’s better for you and me. God wants us to show love to our enemies... to do good to those who hate us... and to bless those who curse. To pray for those who cause us hurt... and to turn the other cheek.
Is that easy? No. It’s the most powerful form of witness, but you can only do it by being filled with God’s love.
The movie “The Butler” shows how the Freedom Riders, who fought racism in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, trained people how to not retaliate when they were hit, spit on, cursed, pushed, or when people threw food at them. It’s an intensely powerful scene of taking a nonviolent stance.
As I watched that scene, I thought, “I want to be that kind of person for Jesus. I want to be that brave. I want to have a heart of courage that won’t cave in to what’s wrong, no matter what they throw at me. And I want to respond with love.”
You and I reach that point when we begin to see the image of Christ in others. When you and I come to the place in our own spiritual life, where we begin to see other people as people for whom Christ died.
When you & I refuse to retaliate... but instead, we strive to respond to others as Christ responds to us... in love... with mercy... with forgiveness... not only are we pleasing God in the process... But we’re opening up our lives to the greater blessings of God.
“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven” (Matthew 5:10-12 NLT).
Jesus paid the ultimate price for you and me. He says there’s a price to be paid for following him. Popularity on Earth is not part of the guarantee of being a Christian, but your reward in heaven is a guarantee.
Following God’s way led Jesus all the way to the Cross. And even though we pray that a cross isn’t in our future... there’s no doubt that following Christ will lead to sacrifice... it will cost us something.
That’s what Lent, the Season of Lent, is all about. It’s about focusing anew on God’s ways... God’s will... God’s better world.
How have you seen lives changed through loving enemies, praying for those who hurt others, and turning the other cheek?