The Golden Rule “Yet we cannot fail to observe that the Golden Rule of 7:12 officially closes the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon and summarizes the essence of the sermon,” notes Scot McKnight in his SGBC: Sermon on the Mount (250, emphasis Scot’s). We are reviewing chapters 20 and 21 in Scot’s commentary. Did you know that about the Sermon on the Mount—there is an ending before the ending?
Like many readers of the SoM, I tend to think, “Oh yeah, the Golden Rule, I know all about that.” Not surprisingly, Scot makes us stop and deeply attend to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:12. Scot informs us of two modifications of Torah: 1) producing clarity by the multiplication of laws as evidenced in the Bible itself, and 2) producing clarity by the reduction of the laws as seen in Matthew 7:12 and in the Great Commandment/the Jesus Creed (Matthew 22:34-40). One approach may morph into legalism and the other into license to sin, but in Jesus’ Golden Rule he “wags a finger at both of them” (249). Scot makes it evident that this “text has no obvious connections to what is before or after” and Scot presents parallels in Luke’s Gospel to make his case.
At the heart of the Golden Rule is the concept of self-care. Specifically, we ask ourselves, “How do we want to be treated?” That question guides the ethic: So in everything, do unto others what you would have them to do you. “This principle is neither selfish nor narcissistic but expansive—we are to extend our self-care to others” (251). Rabbi Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule was cast in the negative: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor” while Jesus’ version was cast in a positive way. Either way, the ethic “sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Do you hear the loud collective gasp of Jesus’ original audience? Who does this man think he is? Scot unpacks the theological parallels with the Great Commandment and with the summary quotes by the Apostle Paul (Romans 13:9, 10; Galatians 5:14). This is astounding teaching: the entire law finds its fulfillment in the one command to love others as we love ourselves. Those schooled in total depravity, “a-worm-like-me” theology of some Reformed traditions, have a hard time “listening to themselves” in order to discern how to treat others. Yet, Jesus does not shy away from recruiting self-care as a grounding for an ethic from Above and Beyond.
The Narrow Gate “This two-paths approach to ethics is a rhetorical way of simplifying in order to cast before the listener the gravity of the moral life. It is heard as an Ethic from Above. This sort of rhetoric forces everything into two options: wide versus small, broad versus narrow, destruction versus life, and many versus few. Everything is chosen for rhetorical severity in order to create moral gravity” (259). Why is the gate narrow? It represents the demanding claims of King Jesus on the citizens of the kingdom. Because a relationship with Jesus is crucial for obedience to the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus is “the gate”—the claims of Jesus call for a radical commitment to him. Yet we cannot “fail to connect this summons to grace” (260). This text prompts many to speculate on the population of heaven and hell, but Scot urges us to consider this: how we live life now will determine the end. “What we do now will determine what happens then” (260). Scot suggests that while discussions of ECT (eternal conscious torment) and/or annihilationism may be prompted by Jesus’ use of the term “destruction,” there is no platform for after death decision-making for salvation or a place for universalism. Jesus is using “the rhetoric of clarity” to cause us to take seriously that we will give an account of ourselves to God. We—you and I—are to respond to Jesus, and get others to respond to him as well. Jesus “flat-out summons people to enter the gate” (263).