The theme for the worship this week is the “Golden Rule.” Nobody really knows who coined the term the Golden Rule, but we know that it has been around for centuries. Most Christians know the Golden Rule to be “love your neighbor as yourself” and is most directly linked to the concluding sections of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where the theme is brought up multiple times. However, it becomes explicit in Matthew 5:43-48, and referred back to in Matthew 7:12 where the culmination of the Ask, See, Knock revelation of salvation “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. ”
On can easily argue that a main focus, if not the main focus of the Sermon on the Mount is a faithful living which is based in love for one-another. I am starting with a quick look at the Sermon on the Mount, before diving into the texts that we are directly working with this week, because most of us know it well and when the golden rule is quoted, it is usually done within that context. However, Matthew is not the first place, nor the most important place in the Bible where the Golden Rule is used.
For the most important place in the Bible to find the Golden rule, we need to go back to the earliest books of the Bible and read Leviticus, yes, Leviticus. Leviticus is one of the most important books of the bible to study and read. On the surface, Leviticus is a book about laws: what is pleasing to God, and what is not. Unfortunately, this is where modern society often stops when it comes to Leviticus.
Leviticus is one of my favorite books because it tells more then any other book in the Old Testament what life was like for an individual and community in the early history of God’s people. Like Paul’s letters one can see the problems that people were facing by what the laws and situations depicted. Now I have to say, a great deal is made about Leviticus over issues of sexuality, and someday I may do a class on that if there is interest, but the real importance of Leviticus is the question of how we can be in community with each other.
In her study of the book of Leviticus, Mary Douglas, a Cultural Anthropologist, pointed to Leviticus 19:18 as the Pinnacle text. In fact, much of her work focuses on how Leviticus 19 is establishing a “holiness code” that is a moral litmus test for communal living. Nevertheless, holding the whole book together is this understanding that love towards one another is the driving force for all the previous and following laws.
In a discussion of her work, Rolf Rendtorff adds the note of interest:
“By the way, it is interesting that in the Gospels it is not only Jesus who combines the quotation from Lev. 19.18, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself, with the Shema Yisrael and the following words, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all our might' (Deut. 6.5), but according to Luke, the scribe too (Lk. 10.25-28). This shows that in the Jewish tradition that stands behind this story in the Gospels, Leviticus 19 had a very central position.” (Reading Leviticus “A Conversation with Mary Douglas” page 32)
As people of faith, we often seek that which is core and uncompromising. In the modern church, we have made many things core, like specific beliefs on social issues, certain means of dress, individual actions and so on. From the judgments that result from those man-made “core principles” we often become lost to who and what God is calling us to be and do. On Sunday, we will be exploring the golden rule as it was meant to be observed, a core that goes deeper than any issue that may split or divide, a call to live in relationship and community with one another.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen