Reading from the Commemoration of John Bunyan
‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. — Matthew 7:12-14
The passage from Matthew for today begins with the well-known positive statement, “… [D]o to others as you would have them do to you.” We may consider it a Christian commandment, but it’s interesting to find that in most world religions and cultures, that is a standard of moral and ethical living. It is a way of making things equal and peaceful. Jesus taught it, the gospel writers felt it important enough to include it in the gospels, and yet it seems so hard to do.
Back somewhere in my life, I don’t remember precisely when, I heard an opposing version, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” It was hilarious at the time, but the older I got the less funny and more revolting it seemed. Watching the political statements coming out of the various campaigns and world events right now, it appears to confirm that the one word change, from “as” to “before,” has become the new standard.
In thinking about this Golden Rule and how it applies to our lives, it seems Jesus might as well have saved his breath. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are many who take that rule seriously and who exemplify the rule exactly as Jesus meant it. Our former president, Jimmy Carter, is an example of somebody who takes the Golden Rule seriously.
After leaving the presidency he could have done what a lot of them do: play a lot of golf, do a lot of traveling, and well-paid speaking engagements in far-flung places. He does those things (maybe not the golf), but also set up a foundation that seeks to do good in places where good is in severe need. He visits those needy places works to make a difference. He champions women and children all over the world, and through his foundation seeks to wipe out sources of infection that kill millions every year. He is a member of a group called the Elders who consult and work to find global solutions to global problems and also he and his wife dedicate several weeks a year to help build houses for people through Habitat for Humanity. At 90 years of age, he is a model of walking the walk, not just talking the talk. And he still teaches Sunday School at every opportunity.
What if others did to us what we did to them? What if a group of strange people with strange weapons walked into our towns and cities, began burning our homes, desecrating our sacred spaces, and forcing us to march hundreds of miles to a place far more desolate and far less conducive to our survival? We’ve done that to others. What if they raped “our” women and murdered children in front of us before torturing us and laughing as they did it? We’ve done that too. What if those with power and privilege suddenly became the powerless, the unseen, the castaways, while others assumed the characteristics of power and privilege they had been denied themselves? I wonder how we would react.
What if those of us who have been the recipients of privilege, whether we sought it or even realized it existed, suddenly found ourselves with the shoe on the other foot? What if suddenly we were viewed with suspicion, or even more suspicion than we already are, just because of the color of our skin? What if police stopped us for failure to use a turn signal and then escalated it into a major confrontation simply because we were the wrong color and therefore suspicious in someone’s estimation? What if we couldn’t get jobs or decent housing for our families because we belong to a certain ethnic or cultural group? What if we were as invisible and expendable as many of our citizens with different skin color are perceived? Even some of the privileged face invisibility and expendability simply because of gender, age, disAbilities, or economic status.
It’s hard to accept that a takeover scenario could happen, yet privilege is exemplified every day in right in front of our eyes, unchallenged by us because we don’t see it as a problem. We see rioting in the streets protesting innocent African-American children being murdered by people who made snap judgments and did unto others before the others did unto them. How many Native American youths die of suicide because they have no hope and because the privileged have chosen to ignore treaties and then refused anything more than very marginal assistance. How many young (and sometimes not so young) GLBT folk face the same hopelessness and choose the same ending because they were told they were abominations and deserved whatever they got. I wonder what the world would be like if each of us could just put ourselves in one of those situations and really try to understand what is happening and what our part in it was. Would it make a change in us?
Jesus gave us this command for specific reason: it was a distillation of the substance in all of the law and all the teachings of the prophets and was equal to the greatest commandment of all, to love God with everything we have. If we did love God that way the second part would be easy. We could put ourselves in others’ shoes and walk around for a while and then do what ever it took to change things so that privilege shared by all and marginalization ceased to exist.
Instead of “Do unto others before they do unto you,” what if we exchanged “before” to “as” the way Jesus said and intended it. It’s very easy to walk through the wide gate of privilege without even seeing the gate is there, much less knowing the gate code. The narrow gate, however, is much harder; there’s not as much wiggle room and the traveler has to be careful not to bang into the walls.
My question to myself this week is how to notice the privileges I have and really see what the world is like without that wide gate to walk through. What I have to do is to see others in the light of their own importance as God’s children and my brothers and sisters, no matter what race, culture, orientation, or religion. Should they not be accorded the same privileges I and a lot of others already have?
What is God calling me to do in light of the Golden Rule? What is God calling all of us to do? How will we respond?
Image: Scarboro Missions