The Platinum Rule

This passage from John (13:31-35) may be my favorite thing Jesus said. Here he gives us the core of what we need to continue his ministry. The Sermon on the Mount, with its many blessings, is a precursor to it. His loving interventions—of healings, parables, and challenge—are examples of it. The crucifixion is the ultimate expression of his love for humanity, a love we must now keep as the new Great Commandment. If the Lord’s Prayer instructs us how to relate to the Father, this Great Commandment is how Jesus hopes the Holy Spirit will guide our human as he leaves his disciples (and us) to his work.

Even thought this is a favorite passage, I always struggle with what to say that’s new about it. I mean, what hasn’t been said about it? Then I thought about my last two weeks: First a chaplain training last month back in the United States, and these past few weeks preparing this weekend’s training on empathy-driven marriage coaching. In both trainings, the take-away is that we have to do more than say “I care.” First, we need to develop a base level of empathy that promotes the kind of connection Jesus had with everyone with whom he came into contact. Jesus began with empathy and ended with action.

In a class on Emotional Intelligence back in the states, the presenter introduced something called The Platinum Rule. How many of you have heard about it? You’ve all heard of the Golden Rule, right? “Do under others as you would have them do unto you.” The Platinum Rule takes this a step further:

“Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” OR, simplified:

“Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

The Golden Rule isn’t something Jesus invented. The original comes from Leviticus 19 which says, “love your neighbor as yourself,” to include the strangers among us from foreign lands and those whom Jewish custom considered outcasts, such as widows and orphans.

Jesus extends this even to those the temple community would have been considered ritually unclean: tax collectors; sex workers; people suffering with leprosy, paralysis, dementia. Perhaps someone like you or me. Jesus loved us.

Here’s the trick to treating someone as they would want to be treated: You have to know some of what they want, some of what they feel, some of their journey. You have to develop empathy. Jesus was a master of empathy.

There are many ways we can exercise empathy to help create the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. We can start by listening to others’ stories, which requires we spend time with people who may not look like us or experience life in the same way. I remember years ago working in San Antonio, Texas, with the Mexican American Catholic community. We shared many Saturdays in church basements in “listening circles.” Most of us didn’t speak each other’s language, so we shared stories of life and hope through translators. At the end of one particularly difficult day, we came up with plans to send young people to college, to help neighborhoods with necessary flood control, and to create opportunities for conversation and accountability with city officials and structures of power that had been out of reach for many. All three initiatives were successful because we started with listening.

I wonder who on Okinawa needs to be heard and affirmed. A few weeks ago, protesters gathered at our gates on Kadena to be heard. I wonder if we were listening, Japanese and American, to that conversation with our hearts engaged. I wondered if the security forces felt heard, or some base leadership who went out to witness the event from afar. Yes, we can view our civic and social interactions through a lens of empathy and love and not have it be “mere politics.” It’s about opening our hearts. Later that same day, I drove out to a remote beach to spend some time alone. On the way I passed by Camp Schwab. A lone protester stood outside the gate with a simple sign that read, “Our families are precious too. Please don’t fly over our homes.” On the one hand, trained helicopter crews help keep this region secure. On the other, I imagined this man and his family sitting on tatami mats, enjoying tea, only to have thunderous Ch-53 Super Stallion helicopters rattle their home and scare their children. I don’t know if he has tatami mats or children in his home, or even if he likes tea—but conjuring a picture in my mind helped me imagine what he might be feeling. I’m not going to solve that helicopter paradox, but I can pay attention, bear witness, and wave as I slowed to read his sign—even with my Yankee plates and big 4×4 van.

There are many things we, as individuals, can’t do to solve the world’s suffering. I can’t change history or its injustices, but there is power, Love’s power, as we remain curious and listen to the hearts around us. Perhaps even amongst us here, there may be hurts and hopes that could be shared. For some reason, God brought us all here together (us, in this room) with all our legacies and longings. Can we love each other as we would like to be loved?

A final way to love as Jesus commanded is to focus these intentions on loving action rather than just loving feelings. Feelings that come from a place of empathy are a great place to start. But in John 15, Jesus pushes us even farther. He repeats his commandment to love one another, even as he loved us, but then adds: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus was all about action. He didn’t just soothe people with illness, he healed them. He didn’t just meet strangers in the street, he entered their homes and dined with them. To lay down one’s life doesn’t just mean giving up your life, it can mean opening up your life and becoming vulnerable.

Jesus words his great commandment, not as a “thou shalt not,” but as an open ended “will you?” While the 10 commandments of Moses were specific, Jesus’ law is broad. It invites us to ask: “Have we loved enough?” “How could I love more?” “Who around me needs love?”

As you consider these questions, pay attention to how you feel inside. How does your body respond when you think about a particular group of people? When you pass that lone protester, where do you feel your response? Or if you are or one were that protester, how do you feel in those moments of engagement? If you think, “I could never walk up to that person, that person who is so different than me,” Jesus commanded that we do, because he would have! Love each other as I have loved you. Jesus treated everyone who suffered as they wished to be treated. This isn’t just something we can do, but as Christians we must. We must treat everyone as they wish to be treated. It’s the Platinum Rule. Blessed be, and amen.

Delivered at Manza Beach, Okinawa, Japan

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