Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Golden Beginning to Love

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

In today’s gospel lesson (Luke 6:31-36) our Lord declared “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise”. We are perhaps more familiar with the wording, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. As far as rules of conduct go, this one is golden. It gives us a shining yardstick for measuring our thoughts and actions toward others in such a way that can help lead toward the formation of a more perfect love within us.

The ancient rabbis had a similar rule, only theirs was expressed in the negative. They taught, “whatever you don’t want men to do to you, do not do to them”. This was a very good rule, but Christ turned it around and made it into something far better. Not only should we not do to men the bad things we would not want done to us, but we should now proactively do for men the good things we might wish them to do for us.

As much improved as Christ’s version of this “golden rule” is, we might note that it still does not quite embody the absolute perfection of love. In fact, it is rather a large step down from that. The one who has become perfected in love has become like God in that his every thought and action toward others is formed by love and becomes an expression of love, just as we see in God Himself. Such a one needs no outer rule of any sort to guide him, for the perfect rule of love already guides his heart in all things, and is manifested in all his words and deeds.

But what about us? I would dare say that most of us are not perfected in love just yet. Probably too much of the time we are still guided by our fallen and perverse self-love, and think and act toward others out of selfish instincts rather than out of the utter selflessness that is the essence of God’s love. How miserably and regrettably we can act toward others every day of our lives! And yet, it is to such imperfect and often unloving people as ourselves that our Lord has mercifully offered this little rule to guide us toward something much higher.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Doesn’t the very wording suggest that even this greatly improved rule is still meant for people who are basically rooted in selfishness? In our current state, we might not even know how to love, but each and every one of us certainly does know how we like to be treated by others! The golden rule seemingly capitalizes on this terrible “me first” orientation, teaching us to turn it around and use it to begin putting others first in our lives.

We might say that the golden rule represents a divine recognition of our brokenness and a remarkable concession to our weakness, coming all the way down to our level and showing us great mercy, while at the same time offering us a tangible path that can lead us ever upward toward the higher levels of healing and perfection and love.

If our Lord had merely said to us, “Love everybody perfectly,” our boat would be sunk before we left the dock. There’s no question that He wants us to become perfect in love, but how do we grow from being what we are to what we need to become? This is how. In the midst of coming to church, saying your prayers, going to confession to correct yourself, tithing, and fasting, and all else that you are called to do, add this little rule and begin treating others as you would wish to be treated. Start taking little, baby steps toward a better way. It is not perfect; it is not even quite love, really. But it is infinitely better than treating people selfishly as we often do. It may even represent the very best that we can do right now in our present condition. If we will start with this, God will help us, and will even begin forming His love within us. God gives His gifts to those who demonstrate that they want them. If we want love, we must press toward that love in our lives in any way that we can.

In the ’60’s there was a pop song that declared, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; that’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Well love is fine, but just imagine how much better our world would be if everyone in it did nothing more than to simply follow the golden rule of treating others as they themselves would be treated. Maybe that wouldn’t be perfect “love, sweet love” but it would still bring an amazing transformation to this world of ours, perhaps making love a much greater possibility.

Imagine nations no longer exploiting one another or governments their own people. Imagine Big Business with a genuine social conscious, or world religions that didn’t wage “holy wars” against one another. It is almost inconceivable to us how great the results from these changes could be. Perhaps we should simplify that dream a bit and merely imagine what it might be like if ordinary people began treating one another with the kindness they would like to receive. What if everyone worked in their communities or at their jobs with a sincere desire to promote the greatest good for all? No one would ever have to go hungry or live in gang and drug infested ghettos or hate their jobs! What if people drove on our roads and freeways with regard for others? We would have no further need of horns or middle fingers! What if men and women no longer dehumanized and exploited one another for personal or sexual gratification, but learned to treat each other with dignity? Priests would be working full time performing marriages and baptisms, and divorce attorneys and abortion doctors would have to seek new employment!

Let’s narrow it down even more. What if all of us in this parish truly looked out for one another, caring for one another's needs and the needs of everyone who walked through our doors? No person would ever go neglected and each of us would have rich purpose and a sense of genuine ministry in our lives! So often people feel as if their lives have no meaning, but that is because they are so wrapped up in themselves that they fail to see that service to others is the very thing that gives our lives purpose. What if we decided to stop judging, or gossiping, or focusing on other's imperfections simply because we have enough of our own? Perhaps we would finally be free to find the beauty in others and begin to beautify our own souls as well! What if we all supported our parish and its ministry with prayers and financial offerings, with punctual attendance, and with a cheerful pitching in to help with all our activities? We might find faith and an understanding that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive! What if we made all of our personal or family decisions with the needs of our parish community in mind? We would always choose that which is godly and morally pure, that which would build up our community and make it stronger, and we would never act as selfish “individuals” whose only goal in life is to please themselves.

As you can see, these things might not be perfect Christian love, but they certainly have the potential to advance us far beyond the personal hell of self-absorption. The more we care for ourselves alone, the more abstract and distant Christianity seems and the love of God becomes. We cannot love Christ if we do not love one another. Yet we often have so very little love for one another compared to the love we have for ourselves. Thus the good Christ gently intrudes into our lives with the suggestion that we begin to treat one another at least as well as we ourselves would like to be treated. It’s a remarkable thought, yet one that’s at least within our meager capabilities even now. It’s like love with training wheels, for those of us who need a little help. What a great mercy God has shown us! Let us take it, act on it, and follow the path toward a more perfect love.

+To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


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