The Golden Rule

Deptford was a rather insalubrious part of London; the poor neighbour of Greenwich, it had gone down with the decline of the docks. I lived in Deptford during my first year at university, when my brother dropped me off at the student hall of residence surrounded by fortified walls and barbed wire, he said, ‘hell boy, what ya come to Alcatraz?’. Along the run- down High Street was one of the most spectacular churches of London, the baroque St Paul's Deptford. From 1969-1992 it had a remarkable priest, Fr David Diamond. Fr Diamond was a great defender of the people of Deptford, and most fervent promoter of the place itself. He helped the people feel good about themselves and their home. His Deptford festivals had celebrated parades and parties, which members of the royal family, including the Queen, were pleased to attend. Fr Diamond coupled love for people with love for God, expressed in prayer and the Mass. Love of God was intertwined with love for neighbour, one fired the other.

In the gospel today, Jesus sums up the whole of the Christian faith in these two instructions: Love, God, love others.  The whole of the Law and the prophets hangs on them, he says.This double commandment, the golden rule, is the lens through which the other rules of the Jewish law should be viewed.The Rabbi Hillel, a near-contemporary of Jesus  said, ‘what is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Law and all else is commentary. Go and learn.

Jesus was again being put to the test by the Pharisees.  His masterful response has simplified the Christian religion, given us a test to apply to our lives. It is a good Christian practice to examine the conduct of our lives, and ask ourselves: does my attitude to life lead me to love God more? Does my behaviour lead me to show more love for others?

When Jesus speaks of love of God and neighbour, he means attachment. Do you attach yourself to God, that you seek to make his will your own? Do you attach yourself to others so that their problems are your problems and you will do anything to help them. Or do you detach yourself from others, and say ‘I do not want to know, it's not my problem.’

Fr Diamond spread himself around the parish, he knew everybody, both the good and the bad. Harry Haward, The Landlord of the Harp of Erin said, ‘Fr Diamond was our mate, he was our brief, he was the one we went to when we were in trouble.' It is the duty and the joy of every parish church to be as closely connected as possible to its parish, to know the make-up of its parish. This is a shared task between priest and people. This did not happen overnight in Deptford. Deptford had to be made receptive of religion and St Paul’s had to be made receptive of Deptford as a whole.

In the book of Exodus the importance of care  for the vulnerable is emphasised: the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, people who are at a disadvantage are all singled out to be treated well. Through Moses, the people of Isarael are reminded that they should care for the foreigner for they were foreigners too and abused in Egypt. At the heart of the Jewish Law is fairness and compassion.

To love God and neighbour is to live an integrated life, where faith and life are intertwined. Christianity will only ever be really attractive, if its teaching is seen to have a positive effect on its adherents. St Paul remarked how the Thessalonians had copied his way of life, and that in turn was having a positive effect on others.

The love that we have for God and for others is a reciprocal love. Loving God should deepen in us a love for others, and helps us break out of the crust of our innate selfishness. We may have to push ourselves to do what we do not want to do, we may begin by helping other people out of a sense of obligation to God, but then find that the experience is actually rather enjoyable. As Jesus said it is only in losing our selves that we find our sleves.

Helping others draws us closer to God. When we show love it increases the experience of love within us, it deepens our love for God. Loving God enables us to love others. Loving others helps us love God.

Fr Diamond believed it was his business to be with God for the sake of other people and to be with other people for the sake of God.

So may it be with us.