Christ’s marching orders on how to live
By Vernon Broyles III | Presbyterians Today
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. — Matthew 22:37–40
This message is recited over and over among people of faith, whether they are Jews, Muslims or Christians. The words are unambiguous in their call for us to deal with others within the human family in ways that we ourselves would like to be treated.
There is a story of the famous first-century rabbi Hillel, who framed this “Golden Rule” in its negative form when he was challenged by a professed pagan who said he would convert if he could hear the Law summarized while he stood on one leg.
The rabbi said: “What is hurtful to you, do not do to others. This is the Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Whether stated in the positive or the negative, it summarizes how we are to live.
It is clearly God’s will that all who profess this faith are to act positively in the interest of others. For Presbyterians, this message is nowhere clearer than in the Westminster Larger Catechism.
While we think of the Ten Commandments as a list of “thou shalt nots,” the catechism explicates the deeper meaning of the Ten Commandments. The focus is not on the negatives, but calls for positive action on behalf of others. For example, in response to the question “What are the duties required in the Sixth Commandment?” (Thou shalt not kill), we are called “to preserve the life of ourselves and others, by resisting all thoughts and purposes . . . which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any.” We are forbidden “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful or necessary means of preservation of life.”
Further, the Eighth Commandment (Thou shalt not steal) is not simply saying, “Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.” We are called to “truth, faithfulness and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities and the necessities of others.” This commandment admonishes us to “endeavor by all just and lawful means to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.”
These are our marching orders as Christians. They are also the marching orders for those who follow in other faith traditions as well.
So, does it matter? Does it make a difference in the way we deal with those who represent us in the political realm? Is there any point in trying to call upon political leaders to make faith-based decisions that respond to the needs of the most vulnerable among us? Can we not call upon them to see that all have daily bread and access to health care? Can we not challenge them to respond to all who struggle, reminding them that faith disconnected from political action is void?
Can we finally get to living out the Golden Rule?
Vernon Broyles III is a volunteer for public witness in the PC(USA)’s Office of the General Assembly.
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