THE GOLDEN PRINCIPLE

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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Gn 13:2.5-18Ps 14:2-5Mt 7:2612-14  ]

“Do not do unto others what you would not like others to do unto you.”  This is the golden principle taught by Confucius and found in many religions.  This is the fundamental principle of ethics.  If all of us live by this principle, there will be no wars, no killings, no crimes, no poverty, no irresponsible living.  If only everyone lives by this principle, there will be peace, harmony, progress and prosperity for all peoples in the world.  This golden principle does not require much thinking but feeling.  One does not need to be a moralist to understand and accept this golden principle.  It is natural that all of us seek justice, fair play, and our rights.  Buddhists do not kill simply because killing provokes killing.  Jesus speaks about forgiving our enemies, otherwise we will cause endless retaliation.

Then why is it that we do not practise this golden rule of life?  It is because we are sinners.  We are self-centered, inward-looking, irresponsible, ego-centered and do not care for others.   We love ourselves but often at the expense of others.  We only think about our interests, needs and convenience.  If everyone behaves in this manner, there will be much resentment, unhappiness and anger.  This explains why the book of Leviticus reminds us to love our neighbour as ourselves.  (cf Lev 19:18Mk 12:31) If we love ourselves, we must love our neighbours the same way.   There cannot be double standards, one for ourselves and the other for our neighbours, because we all share the same humanity, the desire for love, acceptance, justice and our basic needs.

But even if we can observe this basic principle of life, it is not good enough.  Jesus asked us to go one step further.  Instead of phrasing this principle in a negative form, He put it in a positive form.  “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.”  Jesus is not simply asking us to avoid doing anything that is wrong or that we would not like others to do to us.   With discipline, we might be able to avoid doing harm to others or cause others to suffer on our account.  But it is more difficult to do good to others because there is no limit to what good we are called to do.  Love has no limits.

This explains why this golden principle reformulated by our Lord is the crown of the entire Sermon on the Mount.  Loving God in our neighbours is the highest form of love.  The Law and the prophets have the same message, which is to love God and our neighour.  As St Paul said, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”  (Rom 13:8-10)

This is the narrow gate that the Lord urges us all to enter.  “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  The narrow gate is the gate of love and self-sacrifice.  This gate requires self-discipline and self-emptying for others.  It is not the wide gate that attracts the lazy, the self-indulgent, the self-centered.  Unfortunately, not many people are capable of love for God and for others.   Most people care for themselves and at most, for their loved ones.  Even the latter is not true love for others because to love their loved ones is to love themselves as their loved ones will affect their peace, security, joy and happiness.  They love their loved ones because their happiness is inter-dependent.  But to love those beyond their circle of friends? That love is not forthcoming because they have nothing to gain from that relationship of giving.  

To inspire us, we have Abram.  We are told that he “was a very rich man, with livestock, silver and gold” and “Lot, who was travelling with Abram, had flocks and cattle of his own, and tents too.”  Abram was concerned about the more important things of life, which is harmonious relationship.  He put good relationship above wealth and business.  Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no dispute between me and you, nor between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers.  Is not the whole land open before you?  Part company with me: if you take the left, I will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.”   He knew that if the problem was not checked, there would be further misunderstandings between his men and his nephew’s workers.  To avoid any escalation of contentious conflicts, he proposed that each of them went their own way.

What was noble of Abram was not simply that he saw that family ties were more important than wealth, but he deferred to Lot in his choice of land.  He did not decide anything for his own interests but left the decision as to where he would settle with his flocks to his nephew.   Being the elder, he could simply have told Lot to take the portion of the land which he wanted to give.  Instead, he was indifferent to whatever land was given to him.   This shows the magnanimity of Abram.  He was a just man and he cared for Lot’s interests over his own.  He was not one who would grab everything for himself.  Instead, he thought of the good of others over his own.

What was the secret of Abram’s attitude towards wealth and relationship?  He was a man who lived in the presence of God.   He is the just man that the responsorial psalm speaks about.  “Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?  He who walks without fault; he who acts with justice and speaks the truth from his heart; he who does not slander with his tongue. He who does no wrong to his brother, who casts no slur on his neighbour, who holds the godless in disdain, but honours those who fear the Lord.  He who keeps his pledge, come what may; who takes no interest on a loan and accepts no bribes against the innocent. Such a man will stand firm forever.”  The scriptures portray Abram as a generous man who was hospitable to strangers.  He would come to the aid of Lot when he and his men were captured.  He was a man of compassion who interceded for the city when God wanted to punish the people.  Constantly, he was a man who practiced the golden principle of doing unto others what he would like others to do unto him.

Indeed, whoever is generous will be blessed abundantly by the Lord in return.  This was what St Paul wrote, “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.” (2 Cor 9:6-8,11)  Truly, the more Abram used his resources to bless others, the more abundantly the Lord blessed him in return.  He became the father of many nations and was blessed with wealth.

In contrast, Lot was selfish and inward-looking, thinking only about his interests and his wealth.  He did not consider the interests of Abram.  Eventually, save for his daughters, he lost his wife and his sons-in-law when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of the wickedness of the people.  Jesus also warns us in the gospel not to “give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.”  Within this context, we must be careful how we make use of the blessings we have received from the Lord.  Many of us, instead of using the resources the Lord has blessed us to bless others, use them for the wrong purposes, or for ourselves.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

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