(Melbourne)David's previous articles
sense has always been a good starting point in establishing sound, working
relationships. It is good if it makes real sense
and even better if it enjoys common acceptance.
An old Yiddish proverb from Eastern Europe provides a fine example, If
you want to drink from the well, don’t spit in it! And there’s more
where that came from…..
to Jewish Tradition, a code of life was given to Adam and Eve after the Fall. It
is known as the Noahide Law. It is
named after Noah, the patriarch of sole human family which survived the Great
Flood. The core of this code is a simple affirmation of the need for a balance
in human affairs. It deals essentially with the issue of justice and right
relationship between humans and God, between humans and humans.
is simple in action and the results are clearly measurable. It is the Law
of Balance. One gets in return what one gives. It is the foundation of what
has become known as the law written into the human heart, the Natural
Law. It is just good, plain common human sense. There is though a caveat;
there is no place for insanity as a starting point in this equation.
central element of this human code of conduct has passed through many religious
belief and agnostic value/ethical
systems of behaviour. To study them is an education in itself and it is
astonishing to observe their striking human commonality regardless of creed or
is the essence of morality: Do not do to others which if done to you would cause
basic principle of Jewish morality has been traditionally ascribed to the great
teacher Hillel who lived just before the time of Jesus. The legend has it that
Hillel was once asked by a young student of the Torah to give a summary of the
Israelite code of morality while he stood on one leg. Hillel obliged. He stood
on one leg and taught the young man,
is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour; this is the whole of the Law and
the Prophets. All the rest is commentary. Now, go and study it.
is disagreeable to yourself, do not do to others.
all creatures as you would like to be treated.
you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.
and Luke had a list of Jesus’s sayings and among them is a repetition and
reaffirmation of Hillel’s principle expressed in the positive not the Hebrew
whatever you wish that others do to you, do to them; for this is the Law and the
(Mt 7: 12; Matthew expands on this in 22: 34-40)
clearly shares the same source, And as you
wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Lk 6: 31)
as you desire goodness for yourself as you cannot expect tasty fruits if you sow
your eyes be turned towards justice choose for your neighbour that which you
would choose for yourself.
my Golden Rule for a tarnished age: Be fair with others, but keep after them
until they’re fair with you –
Alan Alda, actor/writer/comedian etc.
everyone regulate his conduct…by the golden rule of doing to others in similar
circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear
before him. –
William Wilberforce. His acceptance and application of the Golden Rule as a
moral imperative radically changed for the better the social fabric of the
burden of the Law
Jesus was confronted with the question about what in essence the Law of God
intended for the establishment and preservation of sound right-relationship in
the human community, his immediate response was to cut through the quarantine
lines of the Divine Law and go to the very heart of the matter. It all
eventually reduced to wishing and doing to another what one would wish for
at the time of Jesus was heavily engaged in a fierce debate about how God’s
reign could be hastily established and what social-religious standards believers
were expected to observe. There were political, social and religious influences
from outside seriously eroding Jewish values and, as a consequence, threatening
national identity and survival.
the complexity and moral ambiguity of their world, Jews were looking to their
leaders for comprehensive teaching on how they should practise their faith.
People were searching for absolute clarity and certitude. They wanted everything
spelt out in minute detail. The Pharisees and the Scribes obliged. This was a
work in progress during the life of Jesus and its program was spelt out
expressly decades later in the Mishnah,
the great rabbinic commentary on the Torah
with all its one hundred and thirteen legal judgments,
received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua. Joshua handed it on to
the Elders, they passed it on to the Prophets and the Prophets handed it on to
the Men of the Great Synagogue. These men say three things: Be
cautious in judgment, make many disciples and build a fence around the Torah.”
– Pirqe Aboth (The Sayings of the
confronts and rejects legalism
was precisely this group of Jewish religious leaders and their legalistic
mindset which Jesus found himself opposing. He believed that the extremely
intense, rigid application of moral norms was plunging ordinary Jews into deep
fear, anxiety, scrupulosity. It was crushing their spirits, stripping them of
human dignity and freedom and alienating from a loving God,
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees
sit on Moses’ seat; so practise and observe whatever they tell you, but not
what they do; for they preach but do not practise. They bind heavy burdens on
peoples’ shoulders; but they themselves will never move them with their
(Mt 23: 1 – 4)
warned his followers against calling the teachers of Israel ‘father,’ and
call no man your father for you have
one Father who is in heaven. (Mt 23: 9). It was these ‘Fathers’ and
their teachings which Jesus singled out for some of the most strident criticism
found in the Christian Scriptures,
to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse land and sea to make
a single proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child
of hell as yourselves.
(Mt 23: 16)
was particularly damning in his criticism of those who were guardians of the
Jewish religious regulatory system which governed every conceivable aspect of
interpersonal relationships and those between the people and their God,
to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and
cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy
and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You
blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.
23: 23 -24)
new criterion of justice, compassion and love
teaching of Jesus on the moral standards of interpersonal relationships stressed
not so much the external and the observably measurable as the inner intentions
of mind, heart and imagination. Furthermore, he stressed the boundaries imposed
by the law of the balance, or proportionality, and radically challenged their
limits. This is powerfully expressed in the
totally unreasonable answer he
gave to Peter’s very reasonable
question, “Lord, how many times should I
forgive my brother when he offends me, seven times?” Jesus answered, “I do
not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Mt 18: 21 – 22)
the Christian tradition, the mystery of impossible, over-powering mercy,
compassion and love was incarnated in and modelled by Jesus of Nazareth. He
lived what he taught and demanded. The Jesus-imperative confronts and challenges
the very depths of human imagination to accept and live by a standard of moral
evaluation and judgment which goes beyond what formerly was sensible, reasonable
value of a person cannot be measure by the sum total of their deeds. Jesus
taught that God will never accept that evil is the last thing that can be said
about a person. The worst is never God’s final estimation.
attitudes or behaviour which reduce God to the limitedness of justice
that is not tempered by mercy and compassion have nothing in common with
the mind of Jesus Christ. He demands of his disciples that they tear down the
idols of hostility and vindictiveness they construct out of self-interest and
self-absorption. To fail in that is to reduce God to the level of basest of
asks of his followers the impossible, the excessive and far more demanding than
any standard of strict proportional justice. It was precisely this kind of
strange anti-logic that Jesus’ audience heard when he told them the Parables
of Loss (Lk 15) and the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 25 – 37).
asked the impossible, he demanded the unreasonable and established this as the
great ethic of the Reign of God. He went even further with a mandate, love
one another as I have loved you. Foot-washing is one of its most wonderfully
further reflection: the oldest surviving example of the Law of the Balance/
Proportionality – the Lex Talionis dates
back to around 1772 BCE. It is named after its enactor the sixth king of
Babylon. It is the Code of Hammurabi.
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human
has reciprocity/proportionality at its core]