The first Scripture reading for today’s liturgy is just one of many that illustrates the prevalence of the “theology of reciprocity” that characterizes the Hebrew Scriptures. In it we read of King Hezekiah, the king of Judah from 715 to 686 B.C.E. He is something of a rarity in the line of Hebrew kings; i.e. he was faithful to the Sinai Covenant. Hezekiah purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood. In an effort to abolish what he considered idolatry from his kingdom, he destroyed the high places (or bamot) and "bronze serpent" (or "Nehushtan"), recorded as being made by Moses, which became objects of idolatrous worship. In place of this, he centralized the worship of God at the Jerusalem Temple. Hezekiah also resumed the Passover pilgrimage and the tradition of inviting the scattered tribes of Israel to take part in a Passover festival. He sent messengers to Ephraim and Manasseh inviting them to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. The messengers, however, were not only not listened to, but were even laughed at; only a few men of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun came to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the Passover was celebrated with great solemnity and such rejoicing as had not been in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon. The Second Book of Kings records that Hezekiah was able to withstand the attack of Sennacherib of Assyria and attributes his victory to the fact that he was faithful to God’s Law.
As I have written before, the “theology of reciprocity” is something in which we would like to put our trust. We like the idea that good things happen to good people and that bad things happen to bad people. The problem is that it simply doesn’t work that way. The best example of that is the fact that Jesus, the innocent Son of God, was put to death despite his goodness.
The Gospel for today’s liturgy gives us another version of the “theology of reciprocity.” We know it as the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12a). While we may think of this as a particularly “Judeo-Christian” way of acting, I want to emphasize that every religion contains a similar suggestion in its sacred texts:
Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss. (Taoism)
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn. (The Talmud)
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. (Muhammad)
One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one's own self. (Hinduism)
What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others. (Confucius)
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Buddhism)
Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. (Bahai)
Unfortunately, even though every religion looks upon reciprocal treatment of our neighbor as a good to be pursued, it is not practiced all that well. Greed, envy and a “desire for more” seem to trump the notion of behaving toward each other as we would like to be treated.
The Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis is more than half over. We need to ask ourselves whether our lives have been changed by mercy and compassion. As I have said more than once, “knowledge” of the Scriptures, while good, is useless if that knowledge doesn’t lead to conversion and repentance from our usual way of acting. God’s mercy is never failing. Would that we could say the same about our own.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator