And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
– Matthew 22:39
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
– Luke 6:31
Jesus, when asked by a lawyer for the ‘greatest’ commandment, gave two answers. The first was to love God, but the second, quoted from Matthew 22 above, is of interest here. Whether religious or not, Jesus’ ‘Golden Rule’, or the ‘ethic of reciprocity’ conveys a valuable moral message. As explained through these four lessons, the Golden Rule reveals how we should be community-minded, compassionate and proactive individuals.
In both the quotations from Matthew and Luke there is a balance between the treatment of yourself and others. Jesus assumed that we all acknowledge how our self interest includes being treated, as a minimum, no worse than others. No-one would seek out harm from others, and so we should not seek to deliver it. Appeals to our sense of fairness and justice were being made here. Inherent in the idea of fairness is the recognition of other people’s innate worth. Whether humans have innate worth because they are believed to all be part of God’s creation, or whether individuals are all seen as being born equal in a secular sense, the conclusion we can take from this is much the same. We should treat people with the respect they deserve.
Respecting others is a task to be achieved universally and uniformly. Nevertheless, Jesus still accepted the place of difference between individuals. The quotation from Luke was couched within a message of loving your enemies. Within the same chapter, Jesus called on us not to judge others. The language Jesus used is just as revealing. He asked for fair and equal action when he said ‘do so to them’. There was no mention of ‘being’ like others. Whilst this is an inference, there does seem to be a recognition that we do not all need to be the same. We should express our individuality, acknowledge our differences and our similarities, shy away from judging others, whilst treating others with respect.
After all, did the Good Samaritan wait for the beaten man to call for help?
‘Love’ is a broad concept, stretching from the passion between soulmates to the respect between two strangers. Nonetheless, the use of ‘love’ in this context is explained by its correspondence with ‘neighbour’. When asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:29), Jesus explained, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, that a neighbour is anyone in need of our help. Thus, in the Golden Rule, Jesus implored us to spread our love beyond our family and friends. Love, in the wider sense, should be communal by nature.
Not only that, but we should engage with those in need within our community. Just as the Good Samaritan showed his love by going to the aid of a stranger, we should act in compassion by helping those in need around us. Need takes many different forms, from the physical, to the financial, to the emotional. We ought to be generous and versatile in our compassion. If all individuals committed themselves to supporting their family and friends, volunteering in their community, or donating to charity, then everyone’s welfare would be all the more secure.
In phrasing the Golden Rule in a positive way, i.e. ‘do so to them’ as you would be treated rather than ‘do not do to them’ as you would like not to be treated, Jesus implied an element of proactivity in his statement. Jesus did not want us to just avoid taking negative and harmful actions. Instead, he seemingly believed that we should not wait for an invitation to spread our compassion.
For example, if we were suffering alone, we would hope that if someone saw our struggle they would come to our aid without the need to be asked. If we are to love our neighbours accordingly, then, we must be proactive in our compassion, and seek out those who need our help. When our kin and community are in clear need of assistance, we should offer ourselves in service. There is no need to wait for a summons, as by then it may be too late to solve the problem. After all, did the Good Samaritan wait for the beaten man to call for help? Did he just leave him money and continue on his way? No. The Samaritan saw the need for help, forgot his differences, approached with compassion, and acted with initiative, as we all should.