A Storks Kindness

Reading the lists of clean and unclean foods and animals found in the Bible can seem pointless, even extremely antiquated. Yet, there is a rabbinic teaching that says the lists of clean and unclean food are not so much about the food, but about us. We should not take on, as we might say, the qualities of forbidden foods.

But what of the stork? It’s on the forbidden list (Deut. 14:18), but why?

Stork in Hebrew is חֲסִידָה/ḥăsîḏâ, meaning: the kind bird, stork. It’s from the root חָסִיד/ḥāsîḏ, meaning pious, godly, holy, merciful, saint. Aren’t these good qualities? Well, yes. We are to be holy disciples of Messiah, saints. Appearances, however, can sometimes be deceiving.

The stork identified in the Bible was recognized for its kindly, compassionate behavior, but only to storks of its kind. Towards other birds, they were noted to be cruel at times.

The message is simple, our kindness, godliness, mercy, and grace is to extend beyond those of our own “kind,” beyond those like us. We cannot adopt a storks faith. We must recognize the image of God in the human other, even those we do not know, recognize or relate to, and respond according to His Word.

Messiah examples this for us in John 4, by His interaction with the Samaritan woman of unsavory character, delivering a message of forgiveness and recovery. Also, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10), making a recognized enemy the hero of the drama. Messiah warns against acting hypocritically, directing us to act faithfully (Lev. 19:18, 34).

It is easy to act in a kindly manner toward those most like ourselves; but we do not live righteousness in a vacuum. We live His Word in a complex world, with many different peoples, and customs.

Take the kindness the Living God has shown you, show it to those close to you, but also to those you do not know, probably would choose not to know, and there, you will learn the depths of His amazing grace. Difficult, but God. Hallelujah!

Be well. Shalom.

When it mattered …

The Book of Ruth is simple, beautiful, and a deep lesson for us today. Throughout this short book, faith is demonstrated in loving-obedience: Ruth to Naomi, Naomi to Ruth, Boaz to his kinsman, Boaz to Ruth, and all to the Lord.

Hear Ruth, the Moabitess, as she pleads with Naomi:

“Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you stay, I will stay; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do to me, and more, if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Death and poverty prompt Naomi to leave Moab, and return to Bethlehem; to the ancestral inheritance of her family. In poverty, she tries to send her daughters-in-law away. Orpah reluctantly returns to her home. Ruth stays with Naomi.

Unfolding during the time of the Judges, when Israel is yet maturing as His covenant people, Ruth, as biblical literature and history, is beautiful.

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem with nothing. The family land is yet unredeemed. Ruth must go to the fields of surrounding landowners and glean from the harvest. By the Torah, this is permissible as a means of support and dignity for the poor; but in that era, not necessarily practiced. Ruth would have to rely on covenant-kindness, for her as a stranger, and Naomi as a poor Israelite; but also, the faithfulness of a yet unknown landowner.

The Torah commands:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:9-10).

There are many such commands regarding kindness in faith shown to the poor, the stranger, the widow and orphan in God’s economy. Kindness that ensures life, and human dignity.

Ruth finds her way to the fields of Boaz, a kinsman redeemer of Naomi’s family. Most of you know the story of the events from that point: Boaz directs his laborers to show kindness to Ruth, not chasing her away, but leaving sheaves of grain for her to find; ultimately leading to Boaz redeeming Naomi’s family inheritance, and his marriage to Ruth.

Faith-obedience, expressed as loving-kindness is the underlying message of this precious book. Naomi shows kindness to Orpah and Ruth by releasing them from any obligation to her. Ruth shows kindness by clinging to Naomi, then going out into the unknown to glean from the harvest.

But it is the kindness of Boaz that is our focus. He allows Ruth to glean, ensuring her safety. And ultimately he redeems Naomi’s family inheritance, lifting them from poverty. He could have gone the way of his generation, even the unnamed “so and so” (פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי) who was a closer redeemer (Ruth 4:1), and refuse to redeem the land and family, but he did not do so.

Still the concluding blessing for all started with the kindness in the field, see Leviticus 19:9-10 above.

The series of events that followed brought forth family: Obed, to Jesse, to King David, and generations later Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. Hallelujah!

We also live in an age where everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, not necessarily feeling an obligation to anyone but self. Laying aside what is right, for what is expedient, and the holy for the accessible.

When it mattered, Boaz did the right action in faith-obedience to the Lord. It was a command of kindness, that in the immediate sense caused Boaz loss, but ultimately, blessing to him and gain for the world.

In the moment of need, we will not know the end result of kindness shown. Yet, we are directed to the act nonetheless. The kindness itself is the blessing, and right action in faith-obedience to Him sets us in the way He has ordained.

In faith, obedience to His Word, even when uncomfortable, will keep us in the way He has prepared, and bring us to the place He has prepared for us (Jn. 14:3).

Our Kinsman redeemer, Yeshua, has shown us extraordinary kindness; and in His example, He has called us and prepare us to walk (Matt. 4:19; 5:44-48). Amen.

Be well. Shalom.

Breaking Fatalism

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was known to have said, “When I was young I admired cleverness. Now that I am old I find I admire kindness more.”

I awoke this morning in heaviness of heart; as a shepherd this happens often. At times it is difficult to shut the theological mind off as I read posts or listen to conversations; attentive to the underlying theological issues influencing a particular conclusion, or course of action. I found myself praying about what I might term perspectival fatalism, which appears to be creeping into people’s biblical theology. While it is beyond the scope of this blurb to define philosophical fatalism properly, it is a perspective that resigns itself to fate, or the fates, if you will: an outcome is predetermined, and therefore, it is unavoidable.

The apostle Paul wrote, “My eager expectation and hope is that in no way will I be put to shame, but that with complete boldness Messiah will even now, as always, be exalted in my body – whether through life or through death. For to me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain. But if to live on in the body means fruit from my work, what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two – having a desire to leave and be with Messiah, which is far better; yet for your sake, to remain in the body is more necessary” (Phil. 1:20-24).

Some have come to an almost “oh well” attitude concerning situations we presently face, even suffering and death. People are exhausted, overburdened, over-extended, worried, mourning, fearful, angry, etc. Yet, Paul is not given to a fatalistic attitude, as noted above. He is not surrendering to “fate,” rather, he is surrendering to the sovereign will of God in Messiah. He remains, even while in prison, missional in disposition.

Yes, absent the body sets him with the Lord – which is gain; but to remain, even with the pressure he faces, is necessary for the maturing of those in his care concerning the Gospel.

What breaks a fatalistic attitude? Kindness; specifically biblical loving-kindness.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, kindness, first translated by Myles Coverdale as “loving-kindness” into English, which I explain as covenant faithfulness, is derived from חֶסֶד/hessed. What is hessed? Simply: love expressed as deed. Hessed is a gift of ourselves to the human other. It reorients the perspectives of those giving it, and those receiving it. I’ve heard it explained that God’s hessed humanizes fatalism, by transforming what some thought inevitable with a simple act of loving-kindness. When destined by “fate,” the reach of God saved the soul.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Messiah gives a startling illustration of the separating of His sheep from goats. The sheep, to whom He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me,” (v. 40) are sent to the right, where He is. To the goats, however, Messiah says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me,” (v. 45) and they are sent to the left, representing everlasting judgment (v. 46).

The actions are surprisingly simple: give to the hungry, give to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned (v.35-36). Uncomplicated. What was the difference between the actions of the sheep, and those of the goats? In a word, loving-kindness. Hessed is an outward demonstration of the inward love for the Lord, and the human other (cf. Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). As Paul expressed above, his love for and desire to be with the Lord was paralleled with the love he had for the human other as well. Profound.

In an age where argument is viewed as strength and boldness, the needed redirect is to kindness, which, contrary to mounting opinion, is not weakness, but this: sureness with whom you walk. As the prophet writes:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy (loving-kindness), and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).

Further:

“For I desire mercy (kindness) and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6).

In faith we bring the theoretical, perhaps even the abstract, to life by faithfully outreaching to those trampled over by life in the name of the Lord.

Can fatalism be caught up in the life of faith? Only when we turn our eyes from the Messiah. Fatalism and faith are simply incompatible.

As we find in the Great Commission, and again in Acts 1:8, those in Christ remain on His mission, regardless of circumstance, history, or political atmosphere. Therefore, our perspective cannot be fatalistic, but missional. As Paul writes regarding putting off the old man with his abundant wickedness, and the putting on of the new man, we do so with “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another” (Col. 3:12-13; cf. Gal. 5:22-23).

We are all enduring something, somethings more tragic than others; but when we reach out our hand in loving-kindness, we are caught up in His grace – and all it encompasses. Hessed changes the perspective of both recipient and actor. A simple act, lost in the myriad acts of a day, week or year may not change your life, or be a moment remembered; but it may give hope to and radically change the life touched.

Loving-kindness is the power of God manifest as a glass of water to a thirsty, hurting soul.

Be well. Shalom.