The Gospel of St. Luke records Jesus as saying to treat others as you would like them to treat you. "As you would that men do unto you, do likewise unto them. If you love those who love you, what thanks do you have? For even sinners do the same." (6:31-32)
Consider the buts, such as, "I believe in God, but I can't always do everything he wants me to do." Or, "I think that the Bible is a tremendous work, but I don't have time to read it." Or, "I know that Jesus was right when he said that I should love my neighbor as myself, but have you ever met my neighbor?"
My favorite but is, "I know you are right, but I disagree with you anyway."
Here we are, a Christian community filled with buts. We know that we should get along with people; we know that we should live an active Christian faith; we know that we should extend the love of Christ to all with whom we come in contact. But we don't have time, or we're too tired, or too busy, or we give a false appearance of God's commandments. There is nothing in the provision of Christ's teaching that allows for any buts.
Leaving no one out
One of the Orthodox Church fathers, St. Simeon the New Theologian, wrote to his monastic followers (and to all of us, really): "If you help 99 people, but turn away the 100th person who comes to you for help, and you are able to help him, then you have wiped out all the good that you have done in helping the 99, because you willingly and voluntarily turned away one needy person whom you could have helped."
What St. Simeon was saying was that in the Christian life, there is no but. You can't say, "Lord, I would have helped the 100th person, but I had already helped 99," because God won't accept that. God will not accept the word but.
How can I love my neighbor when my neighbor is different from me? How can I love my neighbor if he is black, or Hispanic, or Asian, or Muslim, or Hindu? If I am a Jew, how can I love my neighbor if he is Palestinian, or vice versa? Christ explains when he asks, "Of what value is it if you love only those who love you?" (Luke 6:31).
You must overcome your own limitations. You must overcome your incapacity to love your enemies, and you must love them. There are no buts.
Key truths in several faiths
I believe that had more Christians preached the real intent of this Gospel, had more Jewish rabbis preached the same message that is found in the Law (that is, justice and mercy) and had more imams taught the positive lessons of the Koran, we would not have the chronic problems and the destruction of humanity we see in the Middle East.
The only way for us to overcome the world is through the principle of love, and the only reason we haven't done it is that too many of us have allowed ourselves and our leaders to say but.
I believe it when Jesus said that I must love my neighbor as myself. If my neighbor happens to be different from me, how can I love him? I can love him by seeking interaction with him on common ground, by finding his needs and by ministering to those needs. And if my neighbor happens to be particularly pugnacious, then I must learn to love him in spite of his pugnaciousness. There are no buts to the principle of love.
St. Paul says in Galatians 6:7, "Do not be fooled. God will not be mocked."
Thin sowing means thin reaping. In other words, if we are going to seed a garden and cultivate it, we must not allow anything to stand in our way.
It is the same with our spiritual selves. I would love to obey God's commandments, but there can be no buts. I must obey them. There can be no conditions placed on my obedience. If I love God, then I must love all the things that God has created. That includes those who do not love me, and those whom the world says I should hate, because he created them all.
Therefore, "as you would that other men do unto you, do you likewise unto them."
For me, no buts.
XThe Rev. Daniel Rohan is pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.