Common to the ethical codes of most religions, there is a principle to which Jesus subscribed and which he said covers the Jewish Law and the Prophets. It is: Whatever you would have people do for you, do the same for them.
If you want other people to care for you, you should care for them. If you want other people to forgive you, you should forgive them. If you want other people to respect you, you should respect them and so on. It is such good universal advice that it is called the golden rule.
It sounds so fair, sensible and logical that you would be forgiven for thinking that it hardly required stating. And yet we can be so self-seeking that we fail to see our own inconsistencies in the light of gaining our advantage at someone else’s expense.
King David was told a story by Nathan the prophet about two men; one rich and the other, poor. The rich man had large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle but the poor man had only one little lamb. This single animal grew up in his home with his children, drank out of his cup, lay upon his lap and was like a daughter to his wife and him.
One day a visitor came to the rich man’s house for dinner. He did not take one of his own sheep to kill for his guest but robbed the poor man of his lamb and killed it. He then cooked it for his friend and himself and his family to eat.
David was furious at hearing this and said to Nathan, “The man who did this thing deserves to die! He shall give back to his poor neighbour four lambs in compensation. How despicable to treat a poor man so cruelly.”
Nathan answered David, “You are the man who has done this deed."
It’s much easier to see the faults in other people rather than in ourselves. Jesus had a story about noticing a splinter in your brother’s eye when you fail to take notice of the plank in your own eye. He had another about a man who got into debt so seriously that he faced being put in prison. When he pleaded for mercy he was graciously forgiven but then went to those, who in turn owed him some money, and demanded that they pay up. What a scumbag!
Jesus looked at the crowd again and saw all the potential for cruelty, unfairness, and cheating, and said: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. People also had the potential for goodness if only they could raise their sights to higher levels than the basic legal requirements. They had been taught to return in kind what had been dealt them – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – but he said, “whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well”. He also said, “You have heard that you should love your neighbour and hate your enemy, but I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for your persecutors.” After all God makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and pours rain on the just and the unjust.
Tune: Hereford: S.S. Wesley
Come poor and mourners, gentle, righteous
To find the healing state, forgiveness;
The only virtue with its condition,
We need to give as we are given.
Withhold forgiveness to our neighbours
And we in turn withhold God’s favours.
God freely offers to pardon me,
When I forgive them willingly.
Forgiveness is a monumental state,
Without it love cannot beat hate,
With loving kindness, friendship grows,
And makes new friends of former foes.