Good morning, Christ Church! And welcome John+, Tait, and Alec.
While we continue to pray for God’s peace that surpasses all understanding, we are painfully aware of the violence and hostility, the suspicion and division, that is surrounding us on all sides. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are always to be hopeful, searching for the light in the midst of any darkness. Our hope calls us to adopt a positive and constructive spirit no matter what the challenges are. But I would be the first one to admit that this is not easy to do in the present moment.
I have noticed that more and more pundits are writing and/or talking about “tribalism.” I am not an anthropologist or a sociologist. But I am convinced that there is deep within our DNA the natural inclination to gather in groups with like-minded people who share a common cause that motivates us. This was a matter of survival for our prehistoric ancestors. It certainly is biblical. Think about the twelve tribes of Israel. It is a major element when we discuss the history of nations and empires. And it certainly continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the present day. I am reminded of that every time I walk into Nationals Park!
In a recent article on the Atlantic website, Peter Wehner writes, “Tribal instinct is not just to belong, but to exclude and attack.” He then cites Amy Chua, who has authored the book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations: “When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism. They close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them.” Again, I am no expert in these matters. However, that does seem to accurately describe our world presently every time I pause to pray.
Remembering that Jesus is offering us the basis of the Christian moral life in his Sermon on the Mount, it is essential that we look to his teaching when the risks of tribalism threaten to tear God’s world apart. Matthew 7:12 is often called “The Golden Rule.” If all of God’s children were able to live ever more fully into the spirit of this divine rule, the divisions caused by tribalism would cease and God’s kingdom would be close at hand. It must begin somewhere. Let us pray that it would begin with us.
Faithfully in Christ,
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 NRSV)
One of the commentators I have been reading calls this verse “The Everest of Ethics.” It certainly encapsulates all that we have considered in these reflections thus far. It is what true blessedness is all about. It is the inspiration at the heart of living as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It reveals to us the appropriate attitude when it comes to the disciplines of prayer, tithing, and fasting. And making the Golden Rule our vocation in life necessarily relieves us of the worry and anxiety we experience when we become overly concerned about our own self-interests. It is indeed the antidote to self-idolatry.
Of course, Jesus was not the first to draw attention to this foundational practice of faith. He says so himself, “For this is the law and the prophets.” The Ten Commandments speak to this way of behavior. In the Book of Tobit, Tobias teaches his son that one of life’s primary rules is, “whatever is hateful to you, do to no other.” In Psalm 15, the author writes, “Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, and do not take up reproach against their neighbors.” And paraphrasing Tobit, the famous Rabbi Hillel taught, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole Law, and the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” Thus, we can see that the precedent has been established.
What is most powerful about Jesus’ declaration concerning the Golden Rule, and at the same time the most wonderful, is that he states the rule entirely in the affirmative, and that in turn entirely changes the spirit of this divine admonition. The emphasis is no longer placed on the “NOT”: You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet anything that is another’s. This is no longer legalism. This is not the approach that parents at times take when trying to instruct their children. There is nothing punitive about the verse. Instead, this is the Son of God inviting his disciples into a constructive and proactive interaction with the people with whom we share our lives. It is a commitment to positively engage with others, hoping that in loving and caring for them, in showing kindness and practicing mercy, there will a growing reciprocity revealed in their attitudes and behaviors. And even if there is not, we keep at it, because we know that this is what the love of God made known in Jesus Christ is all about!
I know. This is far from easy. So much of what we see and hear on social media and elsewhere seems to have reverted to something like, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” A mean-spiritedness is very much amongst us. But that is why Jesus calls his disciples to a radically different approach to living. The Golden Rule is about loving God first, with all that we are and all that we have. And we do that best when we love our neighbors, all of our neighbors, as we hope and desire to be loved. Only in this way will the conflict inherit in tribalism be finally overcome.