Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 and Psalm 149 • Ephesians 1:11-23 • Luke 6:20-31; Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Psalm 119:137-144 • Isaiah 1:10-18 and Psalm 32:1-7 • 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 • Luke 19:1-10
This Sunday the church has two options: celebrate All Saint's Day, which is officially observed on November 1, or use the readings for the 31st Sunday of this year. Both sets of readings are listed above. The Luke 6 passage ends with the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And the Luke 19 passage shows how Jesus applies the rule in the life of a most unlikely other, for the passage is about his kindness to Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector.
A chief tax collector was the worst of the worst, a very public figure actively engaged in defrauding others, playing politics and coming out ahead. To put this in perspective, think of the political person whom you and your community despise the most. This is the Zacchaeus character: probably among the richest and the loneliest men in town. Jesus sees him in a tree, where he has scrambled up to get a view. And Jesus selects Zacchaeus, of all the people in the crowd gathered that day, as today's recipient of the golden rule.
The golden rule may be the most misunderstood directive of all time. And it is a directive, given in the imperative voice, meant for action. And yet we so often don't seem to get it. Take the charitable act of visiting a sick person who has lost a lot of weight. The visitor may be alarmed about the patient's weight loss. It may make the visitor anxious to see such frailty, especially if this person is a close friend or family member. But is it useful to spend twenty minutes talking with him about his diet, telling him what he might eat? To what extent does this 'well-meaning' advice calm the visitor down, rather than the sick person? Going back to the golden rule, is this what the visitor would want, if the visitor were the patient? For the brilliance of the directive itself is that it begins with taking a minute to consider what you would want, if you were the person upon whom you are about to unleash your doing unto others.
Doing unto others "as you would have others do unto you" is complicated. What would you have others do unto you? Most of us, I guess, might want something different depending on the time of day! In our worst moments, we want nothing more than to let others be responsible for us. But doing unto others is utterly different from doing for others: the opposite of infantilizing.
Jesus seemed to have a capacity to appeal to the mature side of folks. When Jesus applied the golden rule, he defined himself by his respect for the inherent dignity of each person he met. When he saw Zacchaeus in the tree, he saw a human being. He began there, connecting with him and inviting a shared meal together. By the end of the day, Zacchaeus was a new man, determined to go a different way with his life.
Perhaps when Jesus first saw Zacchaeus, he saw what he was up against. Perhaps he could guess the lifetime of torment that he might have endured: shorter than everyone, bullied from childhood, the kid the family worried about, with absolutely no respect shown from any quarter. The observance of All Saint's Day is a reminder that all of us are saints. What each person is up against is grist for the mill of the redemptive process of life itself.
Morning: What do I want others to 'do unto me'? How can I lead my community in doing unto others?
Evening: When did I find ways to practice the golden rule? Who was generous to me today?