Practicing Loving Kindness: STTS June 8, 2023
In the reading from Genesis this weekend (Genesis 18:1-15), we find Abraham to be an example of hospitality, generosity, and consideration of others. When approached by strangers, Abraham drops what he is doing to welcome them, and to offer rest, refreshment, and nourishment. The rabbinic tradition holds that Abraham’s example of generosity to others flowed out of his unity with God and God’s will.
Jewish midrash — collections of imaginative explanations and extensions of sacred texts—rabbis treat Abraham’s hospitality as even more than the simple welcoming of strangers, and is instead a sign of one of God’s key characteristics: chesed, or “loving-kindness.”
The rabbis teach that this kind of open-hearted embrace of the other, especially if that other is vulnerable, is one of the pillars that supports the world itself. The other pillars are prayer and the study of Torah. Chesed is about cultivating a character of love, mercy, generosity, charity, and service that comes from allowing God to work within us and align ourselves with the divine spark, or breath, that God planted within us from our very beginnings.
As it turns out, Abraham was offering hospitality to God, only he did not realize it. In return, the strangers demonstrated to Abraham that his and Sarah’s needs were seen and would be lovingly, generously addressed by God. When Abraham and Sarah respond to the wondrous predictions of the strangers with disbelief, and even bitter laughter, they are caught short by this question: “Is anything too marvelous for God?”
That same compassion and generosity lies at the root of Jesus’s sending out his disciples to heal and preach to the lost and hurting around them. The twelve received new titles, “apostle”, which means “sent.” They are “sent” to the ordinary people of Israel—for whom Matthew is writing.
Jesus has compassion and empathy for the common people; he sees their needs, like Abraham did as those strangers approached, and is determined to fulfill their needs as shepherd would for those sheep who have no one to watch over them. Jesus compels his disciples to go engage in the same compassion and empathy. To live a grace-filled life, especially because they themselves have received grace, loving kindness, and mercy.
This mercy, grace, and obligation to others that Abraham embodied is referenced in Hebrews 13:1-2: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Could it be that strangers are angels among us, reminding us that we are stronger when we let loving-kindness rather than anger and woundedness rule our lives? May we be inspired to live a grace-filled life, practicing lovingkindness because we ourselves know we have received grace.