Hillel the Elder was a rabbi living when Jesus lived – maybe they even met! A gentile, someone who wasn’t Jewish, told Hillel the Elder “I’ll convert to Judaism if you recite the whole Torah standing on one foot.”
Before TV entertainment came in public spaces through conversation and challenge. Remember all those stories of people taking Jesus on? The Pharisees and Sadducees often, or bystanders, challenge Jesus with tough questions – who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? This woman has had seven husbands and each died – who will she be married to in heaven? Should we pay taxes to the Empire or not?
These conversations happen in public spaces, as Jesus and his friends stand around – like kids on playgrounds or teenagers in malls or adults in coffeeshops or bars. We like public spaces where we can be with some people we know, and some people we don’t know yet. Pleasant familiarity and exciting novelty in just the right blend.
When Jesus and his friends hung out like this they met the rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus but wouldn’t give away his possessions. They met the woman about to be stoned. Hillel the Elder met someone ready to convert to Judaism if he could simply recite the Torah standing on one foot. Hillel the Elder couldn’t pass up this opportunity!
He picked up his foot and said:
“What is hateful to you, do not do to another. This is the whole Torah; the rest is explanation; go and learn.”
The Golden Rule shows up in every religion – but don’t take my word for it; these children can tell you.
- Bahá'u'lláh: Ascribe not to any soul that which you would not have ascribed to yourself
- Hillel the Elder: Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself. (What is hateful to you, do not do to another.
- Buddha: Do not hurt others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
You end up with the book I’ve been wanting to read. I take home classy candlesticks that I’ll never use. We have different tastes, we want different things. Golden Rule, or Gold-Plated?
But Jesus and all those other teachers didn’t say, “assume everyone is just like you and try to please them.” Do to others as you would have them do to you doesn’t mean give everyone your favorite kind of candy, but seek to care for others because you want to be cared for. Seek to please others because you want to be pleased. The Golden Rule doesn’t say you’ll know what pleases others – we still have to ask.
Gifts exchanges are tangible, but trite, examples of the Golden or Platinum Rule. Social and cultural dynamics are more useful and more complicated to consider....
We are each unique yet we’re also made in God’s image and that common spirit of God flowing within and among us is deeper than culture and personality. That’s not an excuse to assume everyone is just like us, it’s a challenge to get in touch with that of God within each of us and each other.
If we’re really following the Golden Rule we have to dig into our own selves, we have to build our emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Like the Jains say, “is sorrow or pain desirable to you? If you say yes it is” it would be a lie. Sounds obvious, right? But it’s usually not that simple....
David Radcliff preached at our district conference this weekend. He’s preached at Stone too, so some of you know him. David directs New Community Project, which gets good church folks like us to be more honest and aware of our global community and what kind of neighbors we are. He told a story about a rich man visiting a village in South Sudan. He saw the children sitting on the ground under a tree praying and singing hymns and thought they needed a church. So he gave them $10,000 to build a church. Now that’s the sturdiest building in the village.
David saw this church in this poor village and asked the people, “what would you have done with $10,000 if he had asked you what you needed?” “Build dormitories,” they said. Because praying and singing hymns under a tree is alright, but sleeping and living in shacks is a hardship.
Proof we need the Platinum Rule? I don’t think so. I think if that rich man had lived in the village for a week he would’ve known that to treat others as he wants to be treated, he would prefer to sleep in a sturdy building for 8-or-so hours every night, in the dark as all sorts of creatures roam through the village, than pray and sing hymns in a sturdy building during the day.
The Golden Rule is only Gold-Plated if we’re out of touch with our own needs, if we’re out of touch with reality, if we’re jumping to conclusions based on ego or status or what we perceive our role to be.
If I’m so focused on being your pastor that I ask you personal questions standing next to the cider next Sunday at the Halloween party when you just want to play a game and not think about your spiritual angst, then I’m putting my role before either of our sincere needs.
If a rich Christian visits a village in South Sudan and knows he wants to help, but can’t see past a church building, he’s putting perception before reality.
The Golden Rule isn’t just good for other people, it saves us too, because we find out who we are and what we most deeply long for when we practice the Golden Rule.
For some of us, caring for other people is easier than caring for ourselves. “Love our neighbor as our-self.” We have to love ourselves too.
Not Narcissism, not selfishness, that isn’t love. What do you say to yourself when you’re late, again, for work or picking up your kids? What do you say to yourself when you can’t zip up your jeans? What do you say to yourself when you choose a movie over meditating? When you realize you can’t climb the stairs anymore?
Think about someone you adore – your grandchild or child or even your pet – someone you would never want to hurt. Would you ever talk to them the way you talk to yourself?....
We learn to love ourselves by loving our neighbor well, by hearing the gentle words we use for our grandkids or a friend who is in pain.
We learn to love our neighbors when we sleep a night on their streetcorner.
Love God with everything you’ve got – let God be God and adore our Creator. Love your neighbor as yourself. A holy trinity, three in one. Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. The greatest commandments are good as gold.