“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
Really, Jesus? Really? This is “the essence” of the entire Old Testament? According to Dictionary.com the word “essence” means, “The basic, real and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features.” And I’m thinking, are you sure this is what you meant to say, Jesus? That the entire Old Testament can be reduced to ‘be nice to each other’?
So Adam and Eve in the garden, Noah’s Flood, Abraham’s journey’s and strange sacrifice, Sodom and Gomorrah, Joseph’s coat of many colors, the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, Moses leading the people across the Red Sea, the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Joshua and his war, the time of the Judges, the story of Ruth and Naomi, David and Saul and their bloody histories, the rise of King Solomon, the era of the Kings, the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions, the captivity, the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah, and the prophets – the prophets! – with all of their clarion calls to right living and their pictures of the coming Messiah… All this, Jesus, boils down to be nice to each other?
Okay, first things first. There’s a lot more going on with this statement than “be nice to each other.” What Jesus is telling us to do is to live with empathy. Or, more accurately perhaps, to live our lives from a place of empathy. And if empathy is the “vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another” then this way of living means the end of war, the end of hatred and bigotry, the end of bullying, rape, assault, murder, the end of married people having affairs, the end of children going hungry, the end of abandoned kittens and nuclear war. In short, living this way – doing unto others as you would have them do unto you – is the end of …well, evil in the world.
Secondly, if this is what the entire Old Testament boils down to then consider this: When Jesus says that ‘this’ is the essence of the Law and the Prophets he is telling his first century, Jewish audience that God wasn’t really interested in how well they followed all those arcane rules and regulations. That God wasn’t hung up on the Temple, the Priesthood and all those sacrifices. That God didn’t want women to be oppressed. That God didn’t want the Jewish people to fight all those wars. That God didn’t want them to keep slaves. That God didn’t want them to make outcasts out of the sick, the lame and the blind. Jesus is telling his audience that everything they know about God is wrong.
I might be wrong about this. But I think Jesus is saying that God isn’t impressed by how religious we are. I think Jesus is saying that God shows his face in the world by how we treat one another.
And so does the devil.
And it seems to me that we keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”