For the last 15 or so months, our pastor and elders have been doing a study together called Gospel Transformation by Neil Williams and Jack Miller. The lesson entitled “Incarnation” is the thirty-third of the 36-lesson study.
Incarnation is a religious term for God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. Over time, the word has taken on a related meaning – to enter into the world of others, bringing help and grace through words and deeds.
The lesson opens with, “Jesus sums up the law and the prophets in one sentence: Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).
The Golden Rule, right? The version I grew up with was “Do unto others and you would have others do unto you.”
One illustration the study poses is Mark 10: 35-52 where Jesus steps into the Golden Rule with this question posed in verses 36 and 51, “What do you want me to do for you?”
In the first situation (v. 36), the apostles James and John want Jesus to promote them to essentially a near-God status. In so many words, Jesus gently explains why he is unable to grant their desire that, by the way, is way out of their league.
The second situation (v. 51) regards a blind man who asks to have his sight restored. Here’s how that went:
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10: 51b, 52, NIV)
I appreciate how Jesus handled this same question regarding two very different desires. The first permits me to be discerning when asking someone, “What do you want me to do for you?” I’m not required to always give what is asked.
I confess I hold back from offering that question because I fear what might be asked of me. An exercise lists some of those objections that run through our mind:
- That the problem will overwhelm me
- That I won’t be prepared to do what is asked
- That I won’t know what to say or how to respond
- That I’ll have to keep offering again and again and again
- That I’ll lose control of the situation
Perhaps having such objections ready means I’ve missed the point altogether? To truly enter into another person’s situation is to take on their view and not my own. Incarnation is more about being than doing.
While I’ve messed up many opportunities to practice the Golden Rule, God has this way of giving me repeated chances to do right, like when Millie* called the other night. Seeing her name flash on my caller I.D., a short list of those objections came immediately to mind and I let her call go to voicemail. Guiltily, I called her back a little while later but missed connecting with her. Seeing her in church Sunday, I apologized for missing her call.
“No problem,” she replied graciously. “I just wanted someone to pray with me.”
“Ouch,” I thought as I encouraged her to try me again next time she felt the need. I said that knowing that next time, her need may be different but I resolved to trust the Lord to help me be responsive nevertheless.
As the story in Mark illustrates, the first step to practicing the Golden Rule is to ask the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Unless we ask, we never know how able we are to very easily meet someone’s need.
More often than not, discernment may determine that the most loving response is not even close to what is being asked.
‘* Not her real name
Golden Rule pottery: http://www.mountainemeadows.com/catalog/piece/the_golden_rule/