Most of us have, at some time in our lives, heard – sometimes incessantly – the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
It’s the golden rule of human interaction; and a definite go-to phrase in most mothers’ “raising children the right way” manual.
So while it was unacceptable for my brother to hit me with his cricket bat, it was really unacceptable for me to respond by hiding it on top of the roof for
it set a bad example,
it reduced me to his level,
and it precluded any potential for change – setting into motion a vicious and escalating cycle of retaliation instead of demonstrating an alternative way of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Yet, if you are anything like me, such reasoning seems tremendously unfair and naive.
By young adulthood, we should know enough of human nature to understand that instead of being lauded as “the bigger person,” the do-unto-others-as-you-would- have-them-do-unto-you attitude (as we understand it) often earns us the label of “spineless doormat.”
Yet, if we look more closely at the ideas expressed in both Proverbs and Luke today, we may gain a deeper understanding of our subversive power and purpose in the world: to undermine the kingdom of self and establish the kingdom of God …
… as Christ did.
From the opening line of this portion of his sermon (Luke 6:27-28), Jesus is being subversive. Among most circles, hatred of one’s enemies was regarded as acceptable as long as you did no harm to them. But Jesus commands an unexpected action instead of the socially acceptable inaction:
“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.”
Instead of limiting harm, Jesus actively promotes goodness and generosity,
service and love for the payoff for such things are “plenty and honour and a satisfying life” (Proverbs 22:4b).
Echoing the sentiment of Proverbs 22:2
“The rich and the poor shake hands as equals — God made them both!”
in each of the culturally-bound examples that Jesus goes on to give, we see too how our reactions to an enemy, a bully, or a tyrant can turn the tables of power: in Roman times offering the other cheek to be slapped would, in fact, force the “perpetrator” to acknowledge you as an equal, rather than a powerless victim; and giving up your tunic to the one who had already taken your coat would render you naked and unprotected from the elements, thus exposing the perpetrator to social censure and legal prosecution.
Within this subversive context, the notion of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is not an expression of a meek (or weak) submissiveness to the actions of others or a commitment to being the bigger person in hope of some future heavenly reward,
but a searching for and sharing of shalom;
a re-orientation of power;
an acknowledgement of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being
and of our own right and desire to be treated as equals – regardless of our race, religion, gender or socioeconomic class etc.
Such work begins not with those that we already see as our equals or our friends, but in those relationships where inequality, conflict and resentment are rife.
Today, be subversive. Do good for someone who hates you (or who you hate). Bless someone who has cursed you. Pray for someone who has used or abused you.