Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

A Simple Rule

Have you ever seen the Golden Rule applied? How did it change the situation? The people involved?

What would happen if the Golden Rule were always applied? In our culture obsessed with rights denied and litigation, this guide to life seems to attract little more than lip service. But the idea behind it is universal. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. This thought has been found in almost all the world religions in one form or another. The import of the rule remains universal simply because it can be so radical, so life-changing. What would happen if the Golden Rule were always applied? Everything!

Jesus presented the Golden Rule, but gave it two interesting twists. Use the rule as an invitation to everyone (including enemies) to become followers of Jesus. And rephrase the rule. Pretend the Other is God himself.

Popular Translation

Jesus told his followers,

27 "Everyone who can hear me. Listen to what I say to you. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Speak well of those who spread evil about you. And pray for those who insult you. 29 To the enemy that hits you on the one cheek, show him the other to hit. If an enemy steals your jacket, don't keep your shirt from him. 30 If someone wants something from you, give it freely. If someone borrows something from you, don't ask for it back. 31 Treat people the same way you want them to treat you.

32 "If you just love those who love you back, how does that make you special? For even sinners love those who love them back. 33 If you just do good to those who do good for you, how does that make you special? Sinners do the same thing. 34 And, if you lend money to someone who will pay you back, how does that make you special? Sinners lend money to each other so they will get the money back. 35 So, love your enemies, do good for everyone, and lend freely, but do not expect anything in return. God will give you a great reward. And you will his children. Remember, God is kind to everyone, even those who are ungrateful and evil.

36 "Be kind to everyone, just as God your Father is kind to you. 37 Don't judge others, so God might not judge you. Don't condemn others, so God might not condemn you. Forgive others, so God might forgive you. 38 Give to others freely, and God will do the same for you. What he gives to you will overflow. The way you give is the way you will receive."

Last week, Jesus divided the poor from the rich in Luke's version of the Beatitudes. This week, Jesus taught how the poor (Christians) should respond to their enemies, what makes them different from others, and reward they will receive for their efforts. All three of these areas were implicit in the Golden Rule.

Literal Translation

Jesus taught to his disciples:

27 "But I say to you, the ones hearing me: love your enemies, do good to those hating you, 28 bless those cursing you, pray for those insulting you. 29 To him beating you on the cheek, present the other. From him lifting up your (outer) cloak, do not you hold back (your inner) tunic, as well. 30 To everyone asking you (for something), give. From him lifting up your (things), do not ask back. 31 Just as you desire that men do to you, do to them in the same way.

6:27-28 In last week's study, Jesus condemned the "rich" as he compared them to the "poor." In the context of 6:22-23, the rich could be identified as Jews from the Pharisee party who controlled many of the synagogues in the region (and in the Roman Empire). The poor could be identified as the Christians who were rejected and persecuted by the Pharisees. How should the Christians respond to the persecution? Treat the antagonists as if they were welcome to the Christian community. Even persecution provided an opportunity for evangelization.

6:29 Here, Jesus addressed another prime audience for evangelization: Roman soldiers. To supplement their meager income, soldiers would beat and steal from the local populace. Such violence reinforced a policy of Roman intimidation over conquered peoples. Passive cooperation could shock the soldiers (who expected resistance) and offer a chance for evangelization.

6:30-31 These two verses summarized the teaching on love of enemy. Give selflessly. Do not seek redress. Treat everyone the same way. Such behavior opens the door to evangelization.

32 "If you love those loving you, what kind (of) credit is (that for) you? For even sinners love those loving them. 33 If you do good to those doing good to you, what kind (of) credit is (that for) you? Sinners do the same. 34 If you lend (to those) whom you hope to receive (in full payment again), what kind (of) credit is (that for) you? Sinners lend to sinners so that they might receive back the same amount. 35 But, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

6:32-35 How were Christians different from other Jews and the pagans? Jesus chose three areas: relationships, ethics, and charity. Christians were not to simply extend loyalty, good works, and self-giving to other Christians. Stopping there would not distinguish followers of Jesus from any other group. No, Christians were to treat others the same. For they were to see beyond the present condition. They were to see, not with this world's eyes, but through heaven's eyes.

36 "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge (others) so you might not be condemned (by God). Do not condemn (others) so you might not be condemned (by God). Acquit (others) and you will be acquitted (by God). 38 Give (to others) and it will be given to you (by God). Good measure (of grain), having been pressed down, having been shaken together, (and) overflowing, will be given into your lap (flap of your garment). For, in what measure you measure, it will be measured for you."

6:37 "judge . . . condemn . . . acquit" These three verbs describe the powers of a magistrate. Jesus used legal terms to remind his followers that these were powers best left to God, the eternal judge. In a more positive vein, Jesus implied when people refrained from these activities, they were, in effect, living in the Kingdom, living as if the Final Judgment had already taken place. Place yourself under the mercy of a just God, Jesus seemed to say, and realize life in the Kingdom here and now.

6:38 "Good measure (of grain), having been pressed down, having been shaken together, (and) overflowing, will be given into your lap (flap of your garment)." This sentence described the process and distribution of grain by the individual (not by a mill). The measure was the amount of grain distributed. The grain was pressed down to separate the grain from the kernel. Then, the grain was shaken together in order to compress (i.e., "settle") the grain into a smaller space. Notice these two verbs in these clauses were in the past tense, while the next verb ("overflowing") is in the present tense, which leads up to the future tense ("will be given") verb in the main clause. In other words, the processed grain was distributed in an overgenerous manner. The person would form a pocket with the front of their cloak in order to receive the grain. The sentence represented the distribution of grain in very prosperous times, when everyone received a surplus.

6:39 "For, in what measure you measure, it will be measured for you." Many have used this verse to justify a Christian acceptance of "karma," the Hindu and Buddhist notion that the moral universe has an unbreakable law of retribution. Taken to its logical conclusion, karma maintains that, somehow, rich people deserve their comfortable lifestyle based upon the past moral acts.

In the light of Luke 6:20-26, such a notion cannot be justified. Jesus chided the rich and praised the poor. More important, Christian faith presents the notion that everything people have are gifts from God. Gifts cannot be earned or deserved. They are freely given and received. The believer who freely gives is far more likely to realize the material and spiritual wealth they have is gift from God. In other words, the verse should not be read as quantity ("the stuff I give, I will receive in kind"). It should be read as quality ("the open heart that gives freely realizes the great wealth already received and thanks God accordingly").

As a collection of wisdom quotes, these passages followed Luke's blessings and curses we studied last week. Jesus gave us these wise sayings to guide the way we treat those who dislike us. He summed it up in the Golden Rule: "Treat others as we would like to be treated." [31]

The Golden Rule is to be universally applied and not limited to our family and friends [29-34]. It places the worth of the person over that of possessions [29-30]. It is meant to include mercy and forgiveness, since it reminds us of our faults and shortcomings [36-37]. Hence the Golden Rule can never be a measure of moral superiority; for, in the moment it becomes one, it judges us to the extent we judge others [37].

In a strange way, the Golden Rule allows us to treat others the way God treats us, with love and compassion even when we do not deserve it [35]. We are to apply the Golden Rule in a proactive way, the way Jesus ministered to people; we are to love our enemies through our actions and our actions are to be blessings [27-28]. And, as we bless others, God will bless us with abundance [38].

Truly applied, the Golden Rule becomes Christianity's most powerful weapon to evangelize. Unlike David in 1 Samuel 26 who used mercy to shame his enemy, Jesus urged us to treat enemies so that they will join us. The Golden Rule is an invitation, not a weapon.

Catechism Theme: Conscience (CCC 1795-1802)

The Golden Rule guides the formation and use of conscience. The ability to see others the same way we see ourselves changes the way we think and act. Both are intertwined. A conscience cannot grow without the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule cannot be exercised without an act of conscience.

What exactly is a "conscience?" And, what is the duty of having a conscience? A "conscience" is the judgment of the mind about the morality of an action. A person must follow their conscience if the person is absolutely sure they are acting in a moral fashion. (1796, 1800)

But, can a conscience be wrong? Yes, someone's conscience can be wrong if the person did not use their mind to think about the reason they did the act, the means they would use, and the consequences of their act. A conscience can also be wrong if the person did not seek God's will by: 1) praying to God, 2) studying about the issue, and 3) talking to other moral people about the issue.

Prayer, study, and discussion are the means to developing a good conscience. (1798, 1801, 1802) The best way to develop a good conscience is simple, however. Use the Golden Rule.

How have you used the Golden Rule? What happened?

We've discussed the evangelical power of the Golden Rule. As we close, let us reflect on the ultimate Other in the Golden Rule: God.

In Tolstoy's story, "Martin the Cobbler," old Martin waited for Christ to visit him one day. The way he treated others that day was different from any other day of his life. At the end of the day, an angel came to Martin. "Why hasn't the Savior come to see me?" Martin asked. The angel responded that Christ had indeed come to visit him, in the faces of the people he served that day.

When we treat others with the respect we desire, we treat them as if God were present in them. The Golden Rule allows Christians to make others sacrament, vessels of God's presence. The Golden Rule allows us to experience the Kingdom in action. Let's not delay applying the rule.

How can you use the Golden Rule this week?