The Golden Rule recorded in Matthew 7:12 may be the most famous thing the Radical Jesus ever said and most theologians consider it to be the capstone of the sermon. It was as if the whole of the sermon was offered simply to get his audience ready to receive this single teaching. What is introduced here is an intentional build from “doing no harm” to “doing all the good you can.” Empowered, forgiven and prayed up, Jesus now instructs his disciples to employ a strategy of preemptive good! He challenges his disciples to go out of their way to treat people in the precise ways they hope to be treated. This is a paradigm shift from duty to empathy; Jesus is restating the moral imperative from “what am I obliged to do” to “what would I hope others would do.” This is best illustrated in Jesus’ story of the Good Samarian where a despised Samaritan went “over and above” to help a Jew who had been beaten and robbed as he lay helpless alongside the road. In the Luke 10 story, both a preacher and a church staff member passed the guy by walking to the other side of the road. The reality is that these two religious leaders certainly “did no harm” to the man but failed to “do any good” at all. Jesus is saying to his audience, “If you were lying helpless and vulnerable sometime in the future, wouldn’t you hope someone would inconvenience themselves to help you? If you would hope that then, then you help someone…now! So here is the deal. If you want help later, offer help now. If you want to be loved, show love first. If you want to be respected, show respect first. If you want to experience empathy, show empathy first. If you want to be forgiven, forgive others first. This is radical stuff!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois