Seeking the common good is a universal concept found in many world religions and in human culture throughout history. The alternative to the common good is selfishness and looking after “number one”. In ancient history it would have been expressed as what is good for the tribe as opposed to what is good for the individual. In more recent times seeking the common good might apply to our local community or to our country. With the world becoming a smaller place the common good can now apply to the whole of humanity.
So what do we mean by the common good, and how does it relate to the biblical command to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to what is called “the golden rule” . This article explores what is meant in further detail.
The Jewish law
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)
Over 3000 years ago this commandment was found in the law presented by Moses. To love our neighbour as we love ourselves is certainly for the common good. This was particularly applied to the “children of thy people” (the Israelite people).
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
The concept of loving our neighbour is extended to the alien or stranger living amongst us. Today it would apply to the asylum seeker or immigrant.
The teaching of Jesus
Loving our Neighbour
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law”? Jesus replied: “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40 NIV)
Jesus went on to tell the story of the good Samaritan. This makes it clear that “neighbour” extends beyond cultural and racial barriers.
The Golden Rule
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 NIV)
This quotation comes from the Sermon on the Mount and expresses the concept of “the common good” or “loving your neighbour” in a different form. It makes an awful lot of sense because if we all followed this rule then all of our needs would be met.
Love even for Enemies
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
The command to love our enemies is one of the most revolutionary statements ever made. People were saying that is all very well to love our neighbour if they are friendly towards us but it is only natural to hate our enemies (opposition, competitors etc). Then along came Jesus and said that even those who set themselves against us are our neighbours as well, and are to be loved and treated in the way we treat ourselves. If people treat us badly, then Jesus said that we should still treat them well!
Our example is God himself. He treats us all well, regardless of how we treat him. We were originally made in God’s image and when we treat those who oppose us well, we are truly God’s children.
The least of these
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:37-40 NIV)
In the parable we know as the sheep and goats we find this amazing statement which turns some people’s theology on its head. Jesus said that the when we meet the needs of the lowliest, the most undeserving, the most despised members of society, we are serving Jesus (God). We can, in fact, love our God by loving our neighbour!
The Golden Rule in other Cultures and Religions
The concept of seeking the common good and the Golden Rule has existed in many cultures throughout history. For a full article read the The Golden Rule in Wikipedia. Here is a brief snapshot.
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udanavarga 5:18)
What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.
One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behaviour is due to selfish desires. (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)
Trying to live according to the Golden Rule means trying to empathise with other people, including those who may be very different from us. Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding and respect – qualities that we all appreciate being shown, whoever we are, whatever we think and wherever we come from. And although it isn’t possible to know what it really feels like to be a different person or live in different circumstances and have different life experiences, it isn’t difficult for most of us to imagine what would cause us suffering and to try to avoid causing suffering to others. For this reason many people find the Golden Rule’s corollary – “do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself
A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them. Now let the stirrup go! [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]” (Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146)
Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others. Knowing this principle of equality treat other with respect and compassion. (Suman Suttam , verse 150)
Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. (T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien)
As we seek the common good we must love our neighbour as ourself and treat everyone as we would like them to treat us. Who is our neighbour?
- It is those living in our community.
- It includes “aliens”, (immigrants, asylum seekers).
- It includes people of different racial groups, cultures or nationality.
- It includes people who are generally despised by society, and who are generally thought of as worthless.
- It even includes people who set themselves up as our enemies, opposition or competitors.
- In fact it includes the whole of the human race
As we seek the common good of the whole of humanity, we can change the world in dramatic ways. Selfishness is put aside and true love reigns, This is what the Bible calls the Kingdom of Heaven being brought down to earth.
- Do Unto Others (Golden Rule) (supernaturalpowerthroughonelaw.wordpress.com)
- The Common Good, Church and Politics – an evening with Jim Wallis (godandpoliticsuk.org)
- The Golden Rule (resources.wcrossing.org)