(…continued) The principles for a good and ethical life are not complicated. There are just a few basics. Think about it. Think about what the world would be like if everyone simply told the truth all the time, did not take what did not belong to them, treated each other with respect, and was content with what they had. One of the striking things about the perfect world of the horses in Gulliver’s Travels was the simplicity of life there. Gulliver tried to explain to the talking horses about life in England (see #1400). One of the things I especially remember is Gulliver telling the horses about the judicial system with courtrooms, judges, bailiffs, lawyers, juries, trials, jails, and everything else that goes with our court system, all there and busy every day simply to find out one thing— whether or not people are telling the truth in each case. The horses could not imagine such a world, just as we cannot imagine a world where the truth is always told.
The man questioning Jesus in the tenth chapter of Luke is an expert in the Law, perhaps a lawyer (the word used in some translations). A lawyer’s job is to find his way through the many complications of the law, and they are usually able to find ways to make it even more complicated. Jesus, on the other hand, was always trying to simplify the law. In Luke 6:31 he summarized the entire Law in eleven words, words you all know as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That can be applied to every ethical question, and almost every ethical question can be answered with another question:
How much help am I obligated to give that poor man on the side of the road? How much help would I want in that situation?
Am I obligated to tell the person buying my house about the termite problem? Would I want to know about the termite problem if I were the purchaser?
Is there anything wrong with a little harmless gossip about the neighbor’s family troubles? If I was having the same troubles in my family and people knew only half the story, would I want everyone talking about it and criticizing my every move?
You are nineteen, three months pregnant, and you don’t want to have a baby at this time in your life; should you continue the pregnancy or have it ended? Are you grateful that your mother did not end her pregnancy with you?
A friend just made a thoughtless, stupid comment (perhaps unintended) that I find offensive and insulting– should I put him in his place and insult him with a mean, but witty comeback that I have on the tip of my tongue? Or should I remember all the thoughtless, stupid comments I have made that have been graciously overlooked?
And so on.
The lawyer in the story wanted to get into a debate about the subtleties of the commands about loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus wanted to talk about one specific neighbor who needed help.
This is all just basic morality. Christianity is not complete without it. After all, God created the world and everyone in it, so we ought to be willing to hear from him the details about how this life is best lived. But those details are not complicated, and most people already know them. The problem is, we neglect to do what we know is right. We are weak and we fall into the pattern of living in the ways of everyone all around us. But Jesus calls on us to obey his Word and then, one decision and one action at a time, live in it.
God’s amazing grace and abundant forgiveness of all our sins is another part of the story. That is the story of what God has done for us. But this mediation has been on what we are to do. We are to obey God and do what we know is right.
“We do not so much need to be instructed in morality as we need to be reminded.”
–English linguist Samuel Johnson
Luke 6:31 — (Jesus said), “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
Luke 6:46 — (Jesus said), “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Luke 10:36-37 — (Jesus said), “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Lord Jesus, give me the faith and the will and the strength to obey you in all things, doing unto others as I would have others do unto me. Amen.
–Based on the words of Jesus in Luke 6:31