Luke 6:31; Leviticus 19:18
The Rev. Tom Herbek
July 31, 2016
Some of the things that we were told as kids were in the Bible actually aren’t in the Bible. The following “Bible verses” have been quoted for generations, but none of them are in the Bible:
- God helps those who help themselves.
- This, too, shall pass.
- Spare the rod, spoil the child.
- Money is the root of all evil.
And finally, my grandmother’s favorite “Bible verse:”
- Cleanliness is next to godliness.
But one of the sayings that actually is in the Bible, “the Golden Rule”, is still essential in our life and in our society today. Something like the golden rule can be found in almost all world religions. It seems to be ancient and universal wisdom.
In Hinduism, it says: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto another which would cause you pain if done to you.”
Zoroastrianism comments: “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto others.”
Confucianism says it this way: “Do not do unto others what you yourself would find hurtful.”
Judaism calls on the Hebrew people to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the ancient rabbinic tradition says: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.”
Jesus changed this only slightly, but the slight change has a tremendous difference in meaning:
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” For the other religious statements, we are required to stop doing anything harmful to others. For Jesus’ statement, we are told to act, to do.
Jesus’ positive call for action is clearly different from the emphasis in other religions to not act in a negative way.
Jesus’ emphasis on action recognizes the common element in all people: that we are all children of God. Within each of us is that divine spark, and the golden rule is in part, a recognition of that divine spark.
NPR correspondent Krista Tippett once interviewed Rachel Naomi Remen, and Dr. Remen told her about a story from her grandfather, a rabbi, that he called, “The Birthday of the World”, an evocative, demanding Jewish teaching to repair the world. This comes from Tippett’s new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living:
This was my fourth birthday present, this story. In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light.
And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.
And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.
Perhaps it would be helpful to have an example of how we might begin the process of following the golden rule, of taking positive action in a small, but significant way, of healing the world. In her book, Grounded, Diana Butler Bass shares a story from her life that, to me, exemplifies the golden rule:
“The plane has not landed yet,” announced the gate agent at the Albany airport. “We expect it in about forty minutes.” People awaiting the late afternoon flight from Albany to Washington, D.C., groaned. June thunderstorms can make travel so difficult.
Most of my fellow travelers left to get coffee or a quick lunch. I stayed in my seat in the gate area. Only one other person remained – a middle-aged man sitting at the far edge. I had not noticed him before. He looked distraught, perhaps ill. Maybe he needed help.
I crossed over to him and asked, “May I get you something? A drink, perhaps?”
He let out a primal-sounding sob.
I sat down. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Is there anything I can do?”
“I buried my wife this morning,” he managed to say. “And now I’m going home. To nothing.”
His entire countenance was that of sorrow, mourning had bowed him, and he slumped in the chair as if falling toward the floor. I glanced about. He was alone.
Perhaps I should have left him to his grief. Instead, I asked, “What was her name? Tell me about her.”
For the next half hour, he told me about his wife, her illness, and her untimely death. They had no children; she had been his best friend since high school. Their parents had all passed away. He had taken her to be buried where they had grown up in New York, a place they both loved. Most of their childhood friends had moved away. There had been no funeral, just him and a priest at a graveside to say a few prayers and good-bye. Now he was going home, back to work. Other than a few friends, he was alone.
As he shared, he unconsciously had taken my hand and was gripping it tightly. When he paused, I said how wonderful it was to love so deeply. I squeezed his hand. “I’ll get you some water. Be right back.”
He nodded, a slight gesture of gratefulness.
On my way back with the water and before reaching him, I found the flight attendant who was waiting for our plane. I told her about the man and his wife, how he had buried her that day. She looked concerned and thanked me, saying, “We’ll take care of him.”
I sat back down and gave him the water. The gate agent announced that our plane had landed.
There were only about fifteen people on the flight that day, and I do not know exactly how it happened, but everyone found out about their fellow passenger in mourning. Perhaps the flight attendant told the gate agent, and another person overheard. By the time we boarded, people were going out of their way to be kind to the sorrowful man. A crewmember escorted him aboard, tending to his needs, and other passengers treated him with great courtesy. They seated him in the back of the plane to be alone with his thoughts and whatever tears might come.
When we landed, some silent agreement formed between us to let him exit first. Instead of the usual rush and urgent calls on cell phones, everyone stood quietly, forming two lines of respect, as he walked down the aisle toward the cabin door; some nodded gravely as he passed. One woman reached out and touched his shoulder. When he reached the front of the plane, he turned back and looked at us, an acknowledgment of the sympathy offered by our impromptu party of mourners. The pilot came out of the cockpit and took the man’s hand, and together they descended the steps. The rest of us followed in silence. On the tarmac was a private car, dispatched by the airline to deliver him home.
Quite literally, “compassion” means to endure with another person, to experience another’s grief or suffering or need. A community of those who suffered with a mourning stranger – that is what formed among a small band of compassionate travelers one summer day on a delayed flight from Albany to Washington.
Especially in our society and our world today, there is an aching need for compassion, for reaching out to those who are hurting around us.
The golden rule is still essential and relevant in our world, our society, and in this community we call home. And the light of God is present in every person we will meet this day, whether easily visible or not.
So let us keep our eyes and ears and our hearts open to that fact. May we each be open to the opportunities to “do to others what we would have them do to us.”