Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Praying the Golden Rule  

Tucked into the middle of today's Gospel reading from St. Matthew--a reading in this twelfth week of ordinary time--is the Golden Rule. Jesus says, "So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." (7:12)

It is interesting how He ends this by noting that what He just said sums up the law and the prophets which is a shorthand way of referring to the Hebrew Scriptures or what Christians call the Old Testament. In other words, if you want to summarize Old Testament teaching, you can put it quite succinctly in stating that you should do for others as you want them to do for you.

Often in the Old Testament, when this teaching has been stated explicitly it has been stated in the negative. For example, Tobit gives the following advice to his son Tobias, "And what you hate, do not do to any one." (Tobit 4:15) This is the so-called Silver Rule which is to do no harm. However, Jesus gives us the positive form of this idea. He makes it active. It is not enough to avoid doing harm. We must actively do good.

The other interesting idea about this instruction from our Lord is the context in which it is given. As St. Matthew records it, Jesus states the Golden Rule after speaking about prayer and how our Heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask Him. He illustrates this by mentioning that although we are evil, we will give to our children something good rather than something evil when they ask for something good. Jesus sums this up by using a rabbinical phrase to indicate that the Father will do even much more, "How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (7:11) (See Romans 5:15-17 for an example of St. Paul using the same rhetorical device.)

The connection seems to be that the Golden Rule flows from prayer; it is a fruit of our prayer life. We are to pray for what we need, and we can trust that because our Father in Heaven is truly good, we will receive what we need. However, we are to ask, seek, and knock (7:7). By repeating this idea three times with slightly different words, Jesus indicates that we must persevere in our prayer. Then by adding the Golden Rule, he makes it clear that our prayer should result in our action to do good to others. In addition, our prayers will begin to change from prayers simply for ourselves (which often can be the case even we are praying for someone else) to prayers for others which are truly intercessory. They will be intercessory because they are based on the Heart of Christ. Through our persevere, we will grow in our familiarity with the Lord and our hearts will become like unto His. Then our prayers will flow from and to His Sacred Heart.

Also, our prayer life will inform of us how we are to do good to others. You might think to yourself, "I have no idea what to do for this particular person. Clearly God has put this person in my life, but they are annoying or I am simply bothered by having to think about them. What in the world should I do?" If we take it to the Lord, we can trust that He will give us what we need to be practitioners of the Golden Rule especially when it is difficult for us because of our weaknesses and faults. Thus, Jesus is able to state the Old Testament Silver Rule in a positive, active way as the Golden Rule. He knows that we will need grace to be able to put into practice what He teaches. And it is through prayer (especially the sacraments) that we receive the grace we need to pray the Golden Rule.

Posted by David at 3:30 AM  |  Comments (0)  | Link


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