The Golden Rule, we all teach our children and like to think that we try to live our lives by the Golden Rule to treat others as we want to be treated. But so often we fail to live up to this Golden Rule especially when we are tired, stressed out or sick. Sometimes we just get grumpy and really don’t want to live up to the expectations of that rule. Sometimes we treat the ones that we love the most, the ones we respect the most the worst. It is human to get like this occasionally. This is why we see so much focus in the Bible upon the Golden Rule. It is a challenge for all of us. It is what we do with our emotions and the emotions of others that is the real challenge. It isn’t just about being nice to each other.
This commandment is deeper and more complex than that. It is about how we handle people who don’t treat us the way we think they should. A few years back when I was teaching preschool, I had a parent that all the teachers dreaded when they walked through the door at pick up or drop off. This parent searched for something wrong every day. Sometimes she would sit there and watch you trying to catch you doing something she did not like. She looked for some reason to log complaints about the staff. She very rarely smiled and very often wouldn’t even address the staff. Nearly every day either I or someone else was in the office making accounts of the day because of this woman.
It would have been easy to be just as miserable to her as she was to us or to just avoid this person all together. I remember thinking to myself, as 4:00 would hit “Oh good, she’s coming late today. I better high tail it out of here before she comes in”. But as I read these scripture passages I began to ask myself how could we handle others in a better way? How do we become better people and live into today’s command despite the feelings that such actions create in our hearts and souls?
How do we love someone who very obviously does not love us back? What do we do with those feelings? In many countries today and throughout the ancient world, cultures lived by the eye for an eye law. And there are many who still believe this today. They live their lives by the idea that if some hurts them they feel justified causing them equal pain. But this is not what Jesus taught. This is not how we are encouraged to live in this world. In fact, it is not healthy to do so.
Our Old Testament reading for today says, “On that day, says the Lord of hosts you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree”. This is one of the more difficult passages to read. But it is really about reconciliation of all peoples no matter their struggles, what they’ve done or what pains have been suffered. It is a reconciliation of people with God. But reconciliation isn’t something that just happens with a little prayer. It doesn’t happen without some tough work in the area of forgiveness.
This only happens first with recognition, not an apology, recognition of our feelings and our pain. Then we start taking the responsibility for our happiness, our healing out of the hands of those who have caused us pain by accepting who they are and allowing for God to be in control of change and healing. We need to look towards God to be our source of healing because only he can truly bring new life into our lives. Only God can affect wholeness where brokenness lies, only God can liberate us from the bonds of pain and hate, the bonds that others can place upon us.
We are called into a time of reconciliation with all peoples. Not just with the ones that we like and get along with, but with the world around us and with the members of our own community. It is a long hard process that is filled with hope and promise that will end with a closer connection with God and a better understanding of our selves along the way. It will end with greater satisfaction with life because our happiness and hope will no longer be based on the actions of others but upon the actions of God alone.
Our Bibles spend a lot of time on the notion of forgiveness and reconciliation both in the Old Testament and the New. But because most people struggle to forgive, they are uncomfortable with searching their hearts and souls. Thus these topics go unaddressed and are not dealt with. It is about recognizing that we allow certain people to take control and power away from us and God is trying to help us to gain it back. I struggled with that parent along with everyone else at that preschool. Until one day, I was tired of playing the avoidance game. I was tired of the nastiness and the complaints. So I decided to not play into the games any longer as hard as that was.
I stopped avoiding the person. She was still pretty unpleasant but I was not going to let her dictate to me what kind of day I was going to have. So I was pleasant to her. I gave her detailed updates on her child daily and I worked to stop worrying and to place God first. I didn’t ask God to forgive me my feelings. I didn’t ask God to forgive her for her actions. I just recognized who she was and accepted it and let her know who I was and that that was not going to change to accommodate someone else. But it wasn’t words that did the trick. It wasn’t saying “I forgive you”. Forgiveness isn’t about words but it is about actions. We are called to love all peoples. Not just the ones who bring us happiness and contentment. Not just the ones who are easy to be around but all people. But what does this really look like? Our scriptures also tell us from the book of James, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”. To love your neighbor as yourself, is about more than just saying you love your neighbor. It is about a way of life. It is about forgiveness, it is about acceptance of who people are. It’s ultimately about respecting one another as children of God mistakes and all. We are called to live in harmony with those around us. So our challenge this week is a hard one. We need to think about how we can actively live in harmony and to live the life of forgiveness. In the next month, we will be continuing on this theme of forgiveness and reconciliation as we really search out how the Bible guides us towards practicing and accepting a life of forgiveness.
 Zechariah 3: 10, NRSV.
 James 2: 8, NRSV.
(based on Zechariah 3: 6-10 and James 2: 1-13)