Asking, Seeking, Knocking – and how to treat others.
In just a few weeks, we will arrive at the great
feasts of the Triduum – the celebrations and commemorations of Maundy Thursday,
Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I’m very
much hoping that pandemic conditions will permit at least some of us to be
together in person on those occasions.
But whether in person or online, we will focus all our attention, quite
rightly, on the final days of Jesus’ life on Earth.
But in doing so, we must not make the mistake of
forgetting all that came before. It is easy
for us to forget that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are primarily concerned with
his life, and his teachings. Although his whole life is ultimately bent
towards those climactic events in Jerusalem – we need to understand the
importance of his life too. As I said
over Christmas, let’s never forget that Jesus didn’t only die for us: he lived for us as well.
Today’s Gospel places us at the towering conclusion of
Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ – set out over the chapters 5,6 and 7 of Matthew’s
Gospel. It’s well worth taking some time
this week, to read the whole of the Sermon for yourself. In it, Jesus ranges across a whole panoply of
his thinking about how society should function.
He starts by pronouncing blessing upon the poor, the down-trodden, those
who mourn, and those who stand up for justice and peace.
Then he calls his followers to be light and salt to
the world – bringing clarity and taste to the society in which we live. He deals with topics like anger, and envy,
and murder, adultery and divorce, and the taking of oaths. He rescinds the justice rule of ‘and eye for
an eye’ and replaces it with the command to turn the other cheek. He replaces revenge with forgiveness, hatred
Then, Jesus moves on to issues of piety – how we
should conduct ourselves as his followers.
We are not to be ostentatious about our charity, but to give as though
our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing. We are not to parade our faith around proudly
and arrogantly, fasting should be done quietly and secretly. We are not to judge others. We are encouraged
to pray diligently and privately – and he teaches us how to pray in the word of
the Lord’s Prayer.
Then, Jesus focuses on the topic of wealth. We are not to store up treasure on earth, but
treasure in heaven. We are not to worry
about where our next meal or clothing comes from, but to rely on God’s
provision. We may ask, seek and knock –
because our heavenly Father knows what we need.
Each of these topics – and there are more than these
in the sermon – are worthy of our attention, and each is worth of a sermon of
its own. But today, our attention is
drawn towards the climax – a memorable phrase which summarises so much of what
has gone before. It’s a phrase that is
common to most, if not all, of the great religions of the world – so much so
that it is known, universally by philosophers as ‘The Golden Rule’. And it’s this: treat
others as you would like to be treated. Or, as it is sometimes stated in
negative terms: ‘don’t treat others the
way you wouldn’t want to be treated’.
It is vital that we understand just how fundamental
this principle is. Let us play a little
imagination game together. It’s a game I
like to call ‘What if?’
What if, in our personal lives, we were as willing to
forgive others just as we would like to be forgiven when we mess up? Because we all do. All the time.
What if, in our personal finances, we were as willing
to help others as we would hope others would help us should we become poor? Because no-one’s financial security is
guaranteed. Anything can happen – like a
pandemic, or war, or stock-market crash for example.
What if, as a society, we were as willing to welcome
strangers and refugees to our shores, just as we would hope to be welcomed if our homes had been bombed, or our economy had failed?
What if, as a world, we could create a system in which
the greed of a few is limited by law, the resources of the planet are stewarded
carefully, the medicines of the world are shared fairly, and the food of the
world distributed equally. Fairness,
equity, and careful stewardship are only what any of us asks for
ourselves. Why not for everybody?
These are ultimately Kingdom Questions. Some will accuse me of interfering in
politics – and that’s OK. Because being
a Christian is ultimately about declaring to the world that there is a better Way than ANY of the political
frameworks we’ve made for ourselves. Jesus lived to show us what that Way could be like. His radical path of fairness, equity, careful
stewardship, forgiveness and love has shone like a beacon over the world ever
since he first spoke in that Sermon on the Mount.
But Jesus spoke to a world which was, and still is,
blind and deaf. He spoke to a world in
which punishment is still seen as more important than restoration. He spoke to a world which has resigned itself
to the accumulation of massive wealth by a tiny elite, and the poverty of
billions. He spoke to a world which
spends hundreds of times more on weapons of war than on medical research. He spoke to a people who are, it seems,
incapable of reducing consumption, and of stemming the pace of climate change.
To such a world, Jesus’ sermon and Jesus’ wisdom still
echoes in our ears….’Treat others as you would have them treat you’. It’s a simple message, whose radical,
transformative power is perhaps lost to many in its glorious simplicity. But Jesus still speaks those words, through
you, through me, to a world with its hands over its ears. Why not try Jesus’ Way? Why not treat others as you would like to be