One of the core principles of Christianity is that we treat other people as we would like to be treated by them. Sometimes we think and feel that our own particular necessities should be prioritised over those of others. After all, they are more relevant, and they are usually more important and urgent. Arguably, they deserve more immediate attention than the needs of those around us.
Yet it follows that, if we are to be faithful to that key principle, we must put other people’s needs before our own. In other words, we do to them what we would have them do to us. Thus we prioritise their individual needs over our own desires, which, while often important, take second place.
However, that is easier said than done because implementing the Gospel’s strict standard demands that we abandon our own interests and agenda. It means putting others first and it requires great humility and selflessness on our part. This means ‘going against the grain’ and putting everyone on the same level, thereby treating them equally.
Saint James explained this with a useful example. In his letter he wrote: “Now suppose a man comes into your synagogue, beautifully dressed and with a gold ring on, and at the same time a poor man comes in, in shabby clothes, and you take notice of the well-dressed man, and say, ‘Come this way to the best seat’; then you tell the poor man, ‘Stand over there’ or ‘You can sit on the floor by my foot rest.’ Can’t you see that you have used two different standards in your mind, and turned yourselves into judges, and corrupt judges at that?”
Applying different standards to different people means that we cannot treat them all equally. Whenever we exercise such double standards, we indulge in hypocritical behaviour. And hypocrisy needs to be rooted from our lives because it is incompatible with God’s behaviour towards human beings.
God never distinguishes between us. Neither does He discriminate against us. He loves all human beings equally, while at the same time loving each one of us uniquely. This is a contradiction in terms of human logic. But, thankfully, God’s ways are not ours and we are constantly invited to learn from God by being receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our relationships and activities.
That is why James wrote: “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.”
But if we apply the principle of treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves in purely material or worldly terms, it is considerably more important to follow the Gospel imperative, which is always of a supernatural character and never restricted to this world only. The Gospel imperative is really about treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves – in spiritual terms.
We want only the best for ourselves, both materially and spiritually, and this is also how we must deal with others. Therefore, our failure to show Christ to others in such a way as to make the Church attractive to them is a failure to treat them as we wish to be treated ourselves.
Our duty as Christians is to treat others as we would like them to treat us. Understandably, this involves dealing with them humanely and generously according to temporal needs. But it also involves sharing with them the spiritual effects of the Church’s teaching that permeates our own lives.
Recommended reading: James 2: 1-5