“To Love Kindness”
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Micah: 6: 6-8
The Hebrew word is hesed. Micah 6: 8 says: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love hesed, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We don’t quite know how to translate the Hebrew word hesed. In one version of the Bible it is translated “mercy,”[i] but that is not quite what hesed means, so in the next version it is translated “kindness,”[ii] but that is not exactly what it means. So in another version it is translated “love,”[iii] and in another version it is translated “grace.”[iv]
The biblical scholar Katharine Doob Sakenfeld says that, if you study the use of the word hesed in the Old Testament – if you pay careful attention to the circumstances in which the word is used – there are certain consistent characteristics in its usage:
First, the word hesed is used when the help of another is essential; the person in need cannot help him- or herself;
Second, the word is used when help is essential; without help the person’s situation will turn drastically for the worse;
Third, it is used when the circumstances dictate that one person is uniquely able to provide the help that is needed; there is no alternative if this person doesn’t provide the help;
Fourth, the person in need has no control over the decision of the person whose help he or she needs. There are no negative implications for the helper if he or she chooses not to help. The potential helper must make a free choice of whether to help or not. There is nothing particularly in it for them.[v]
Katharine Doob Sakenfeld says that none of the words we use to translate hesed – love, loyalty, kindness or mercy – quite do it.
Hesed is when you are in big trouble and something really bad is going to happen to you and there is one person or group or institution that can help you and they really have no reason to go out of their way to help you but they do. That is to be a recipient of hesed.
When there is somebody who needs your help or mine or ours, and their life will be much worse if they don’t get our help and we have no particular reason to help them, but we do, that is hesed. That is to bestow hesed.
Now the interesting thing to me about Micah 6: 8 is that it tells us that we should do justice. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice…” It tells us that we should do justice, but it tells us that we should “love hesed.”
Justice is something we are called to do because it is right and God expects it of us. It is an obligation. We do what is just because our Creator and Lord, to whom we are accountable for our lives, says to do justice.
But our Creator and Lord doesn’t just want us to do hesed… The Lord does not merely require us to be kind or to be merciful or to be loving…to help each other when we need help. According to Micah 6: 8, the Lord wants us to love hesed.
Not just to help others who need our help because we have an obligation to do so but because we love doing it.
And notice that in Micah 6: 8 loving hesed is not just about loving to help others; it is also about loving when we need help and others help us. The Lord expects us to love it when we need help and others who have no obligation to help us do so.
According to Micah 6: 8, we are expected to do justice but to love hesed.
There seems to me to be a strange relationship between affluence, need, and kindness. It seems to me that affluence, as a rule, does not make us kinder. I mean, we give to others in need. This congregation just donated $25,000 to the Hope Fund.
We give generously to help others who have nowhere else to turn, but I am not sure we love doing it.
I mean I try to give. I do it our of a sense of responsibility and because I want to, but I must confess that what I really love is buying a green ginger tea every morning at Starbucks, and buying books at Amazon and bicycle equipment at Spokes.
Affluence may make us more responsible. I am not sure it makes us kinder. I am not sure affluence helps us love kindness.
a Volunteer in Mission team going to
One of the amazing things to me every time I travel to these places of need is how generous people who have so little are with one another. You’d think poverty and need would make people more protective of what they have, but it seems to make people more eager to help one another.
Perhaps it is the experience of being desperate for help that causes them to really love kindness. Not just to do it out of a sense of obligation but to love doing it…to love hesed.
It is counter-intuitive – affluence seems to make us more protective and need seems to make us more generous.
I once heard Bishop James Mathews repeat a story his father-in-law E. Stanley Jones had told him. Bishop Matthews is in his 90s now so this story happened a long time ago last century.
E. Stanley Jones was a missionary to India who went there to save Hindus and came back to tell American Christians that he had discovered that Hinduism had something to teach us about Christ. He transformed our understanding of what it meant to be a missionary.
Stanley Jones was from
It was his habit to get to church where he was speaking very early. When he got to this church there was no one there except an older man sitting and playing a simple one-finger tune on the organ.
They got into a conversation, and this is what E. Stanley Jones learned about the man. As a young man he had been very successful and affluent. Then the Great Depression had hit and he had lost everything. He could not find a job until his church needed a custodian and they had hired him for the job.
The organ that he was playing a tune on with one finger was an organ he had donated to the church when he was young and affluent before the Depression.
He said he loved coming to the church early in the morning before work and just sitting at the organ.
This is what he told E. Stanley Jones. He said, “The only things I have left, are the things I gave away. The only things that I have been able to keep are what I shared with others.”
When I heard that story it occurred to me that it would be a great story to tell on a Stewardship Sunday sometime. But it occurred to me this week that it is even a better story to tell on Peace with Justice Sunday.
In a world of need where we as an American people are affluent beyond the rest of the world’s belief, what is lasting is not the wars we fight, not the cities we build, not the wealth we accumulated. All those things will fade away and wither. They will become ruins someday.
What will endure is our hesed, our kindness, our willingness to share – our loving to share.
There is a world of women, children and men who need help; without help their lives will get drastically worse. We are uniquely positioned to help. But no one can make us, we have to decide to. The need our hesed.
But they may have something that we need. We need to learn to not be kind but to love kindness…to love hesed…to love helping…to love giving…to love sharing. May they teach us how.
[v] Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, “Love (OT),” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 4, K-N (Doubleday), 378.