I’m preaching on the Golden Rule this Sunday. Total snooze, right?
It seems like the very heart of simplicity. Otherwise known as the ‘ethic of reciprocity,’ there is an equivalent of this directive in every faith tradition in the history of the world. And yet, the notion of treating others as we’d like to be treated is the most challenging, transforming, life-giving concept imaginable. Even if we memorize it in kindergarten, it has a way of getting lost among the other platitudes of our cultural imagination. Or rather, it gets utterly warped by the culture itself.
There’s a country song–and while I dearly love ‘real’ country music, it is not a great song–called “Karma.” And part of the lyrics reference remembering that golden rule: “What you do to others is gonna get done to you.”
??! Wait a minute. Is that what Jesus said?
Hold on, I’m re-reading it… No, i’m pretty sure that, in addition to demonstrating atrocious grammar and an utter lack of poetic nuance, this song has utterly missed the essence of $*^! Jesus Says. It provides an apt example of how we westernize the gospel, shape it to our own likeness, and then go about abusing it in the name of Jesus, God and everything holy. We twist it to reflect our own set of ‘values’ that have, in essence, nothing to do with the good news.
I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of karma. In fact, i think it is pretty much common sense that if you are mean-spirited and act ugly, then bad mojo will come back to you; and if you work to put good, loving energy into the world, then goodness will flow back your way. However–to imply that Jesus somehow encourages retribution (when, just a few verses before the ‘golden rule’ moment, he actually cautions against it!) speaks to a grossly westernized Christianity that we hear in our current political climate, in many of our churches, and yes, in pop-crossover country music. (Remember that horrible post-Sept 11 song about the U.S. coming to put a boot in your behind? This makes me think of that).
Aside from the overt ugliness of ‘hey, if you get me, i’ma get you back,’ there’s a gentler, more subtle misreading happening here. And that is, the idea that we treat others well so that they will be kind to us in return. While that approach might have the same positive influence on one’s behavior, it still misses Jesus’ point. The minute we start being kind/generous/faithful SO THAT good things will come to us, then we have removed Jesus from the picture. He never promised us that everybody would be nice to us if we were nice to them. On the contrary, he mentioned something about being persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
No, Jesus asked us to treat others well because it is the daggone right thing to do. Correction–it is the CHRISTIAN thing to do. Because, you know, once you’ve met Jesus, you believe that God is present in the world, in people, and capable of walking around in the flesh. Once you’ve met Jesus, you start treating every person you meet like they are the body of Christ, the essence of God incarnate. Because they are.
Do we follow Jesus so that we will be loved, accepted, validated and claimed by grace? Or do we follow BECAUSE we have already known the transforming power of mercy, and we heard a call to go and do likewise? Maybe the golden rule should be reconfigured a bit to reflect a deeper truth. Perhaps Jesus meant “Do unto others AS I have done to you.”
That’s the song that we should be singing, as people of faith in a broken world. It might not rhyme, and it probably won’t win a grammy… but hey, neither did ‘Karma.’ And our song, at least, is good news.