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The Golden Rule: A Lenten Practice

We all know and love this simple rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. It's such a simple and wonderful phrase that we call it "The Golden Rule". This command transcends Christianity and is part of many different religious communities and ethical systems throughout the world and history.

When we hear this rule, it sounds lovely. People might summarize it as "be kind", "be a good neighbor", "be nice to everyone", or some other simple phrase. In the Old Testament, it was "love your neighbor as yourself".

But in Luke 6:27-38, Jesus pushes this command to the extreme. He doesn't place it in the middle of helping your neighbor or giving to the poor. No, Jesus says, "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Give to anyone who asks without worrying about ever getting anything back. In other words, do to others as you would have them do to you."

That doesn't sound like the Golden Rule I grew up with. And then Jesus pushes us even further. "You think the Golden Rule is about loving your family and caring for your friends and helping your neighbors? That may be the Golden Rule for the rest of the world, but that's not good enough for the children of God. Sinners love their family. Sinners are good to those who are good to them. Sinners help those who will help them. The children of God are better than sinners; they are kind and merciful even to the ungrateful and the wicked, just like their Father in heaven."

Every year during Lent, Christians are encouraged to drop a vice or pick up a new virtue. Something like "no more cursing" or "volunteering at a soup kitchen ever week". This year for Lent, why not practice one of the parts of the Golden Rule Jesus advocates for?

  • Love your enemies: How do you love your friends? Can you love your enemies that way? Enemies includes anyone you avoid, don't talk to, exclude, or otherwise don't get along with.

  • Do good to those who hate you: You know who your haters are. How can you do good for them?

  • Bless those who curse you: Blessings are more than simply saying, "God bless you". Blessings are actions that make their lives better. Maybe you make a casserole for that neighbor you've been avoiding. Maybe you invite the kid you don't like to your sleepover. How can you bless them?

  • Pray for those who abuse you: Some may think this the easiest option, but praying FOR someone is very different than simply praying about someone. In the psalms, the authors often ask God to smite their enemies. That's not praying for; that's praying against. Can you pray FOR your enemies?

  • Give to everyone who asks / begs / steals from you (and don't expect anything in return): This one may be the hardest to practice because society today is set up in such away that we can often avoid those in need. But think of this as a "say yes" project (to most things). Proactively volunteer. Don't just wait for someone to ask for something; offer it.

Don't try to do them all. Pick one and work on it all of Lent. Whichever one you pick, take the time to plan ahead and actually think, "How can I actively do this every day?" Just saying you're going to one of these without putting a plan together is a guaranteed way to forget about doing it at all. These are Lenten practices, not Lenten happenstances, after all.

Often people look at Christians and see people who are no different than anyone else in the world. Christians volunteer; so do other people. Christians are kind; so are other people. This Lent Jesus is challenging you to step up your game, and instead of being like other people, to be like God, who is merciful and kind to those who don't deserve it and even to those who deserve the opposite. You are a child of God; practice being like your Father in heaven.


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