“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” – Luke 6:32, 35
When people think of the Bible, it is often said that, at its core, it advocates the same simple Aesop-esque lessons about life and character that are common to all religions and philosophies. The implication is that, while it is full of wisdom, it is not unique — at least not in the way that Christians often claim that it is.
And while I do believe that wisdom is obtainable from a variety of sources in this world, I still hold that, when one actually opens up the pages of this holy book to see for oneself what is actually inside, what is found is in fact undeniably unique and other-worldly, a message that is not common to any other source.
The passage that has been before my eyes for some time now is the recounting of the Sermon on the Mount found in the gospel of Luke, where Jesus lays out the basic tenants of the community he intends to build, which he refers to over and over as the “Kingdom of God”. Here, he even mentions the fabled “golden rule”: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. While it sounds like borrowing from other sources, when it is unpacked in his sermon, what is revealed is something that is incredibly indicative of the Bible’s uniqueness.
The golden rule, in Jesus’ terms, is defined thusly: love your enemy, lend to the one who cannot repay, do good to your oppressor. Do good, even to those with whom you are not equal. Do not simply abstain from harming those who have harmed you — do good, not just in deeds, but also in your thoughts.
The opposite of this is something we call bitterness. Bitterness is all around us, it is the result of many people not getting what they’ve worked for. It is the source of all wars, all fights, all arguments, all protracted disagreements.
For most of us, we even consider bitterness to be just. Someone hurt me, we say, and while I may not take revenge literally, I will think of that person with disgust, because my hurt entitles me to that.
And therein is the problem — the problem in claiming that the message of Jesus is common to the message found in other places. In the Kingdom of God, there is no thing to which any one is entitled. Everything is a gift, undeserved and given freely. All residents are given their status, independent of what they deserve, for they all deserve the bitterness of God.
The bitterness of God was quenched by the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus. So every member of the kingdom is present, based not on his own merit, but on the all-surpassing ability of the Son of Man.
In religious-talk, there is righteous anger, and there is healthy fear. There is no such thing as just bitterness. Bitterness saps the will, it makes one into a sad shadow of that which could have been. It makes people unwilling to do the things that are truly beneficial, to mend fences, to redeem that which is in their power to redeem.
The most unfortunate thing is that bitterness, this great scourge on our existence in this world, is nearly unavoidable, apart from the influence of the Son of Man. With its black stain it has touched nearly every corner of our existence, and has covered over the will of so many who could have done so much in this world.
I believe that it is God’s will for all of his children to throw off all bitterness in this life, regardless of its source or object. This is the “golden rule” of God, that will redeem every life that it touches.
Because Jesus forewent that which he deserved, we can forego that which we deserve, so that others can see his power and forgiveness, instead of our weakness and bitterness.