Yeshua came as the very antithesis of what the people of Israel were looking and hoping for in a Messiah. In John 13, he is sharing with his disciples some of his final words before his death. He did not preach the overthrow of the Romans. He did not preach a prosperity gospel. He taught that we are here to love and serve one another – to put the poor and overlooked people of society above ourselves, and to treat others with kindness and love. Chesed חֶסֶד is what is sometimes translated as “steadfast love,” “mercy,” or “kindness.” This is what Yeshua was talking about.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:32-36
Yeshua’s message was a continuation of the Torah, that the G-d we serve exemplifies this life of chesed. In the Talmud, the sages point out that the Torah begins and ends with acts of kindness – chesed – performed by G-d. Tractate Sotah gives us four examples of acts of chesed that G-d has done:
– He clothes the naked – Made garments for Adam and Chava (Gen 3:21)
– He visits the sick – Appeared to Abraham following his circumcision (Gen 18:1)
– He consoles mourners – G-d blessed Isaac after Abraham’s death (Gen 25:11)
– He buries the dead – Buried Moshe (Deut 34:6)
Yeshua reminds us of these basic forms of chesed in his parable of the sheep and the goats: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”… “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:31-40) What separates us as disciples of Yeshua from the rest of the world is what we do and don’t to – how we treat other people.
In fact, the whole goal of the Torah is chesed because chesed is what we do when we “love our neighbor” as ourselves. I’m sure we are all familiar with Yeshua’s summation of the goal of the Tanakh: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend
all the Torah and the Prophets.’” (Matt 22:34-40)
Shaul in Romans 13:8-10 expands on Yeshua’s word – “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
In everything we do and say, we should consider our actions in light of this understanding of the importance of chesed and the example that G-d and Yeshua set for us. We must set aside our own way of thinking to see people the way G-d sees them. Our actions are a reflection of him. Our service to others flows from the chesed חֶסֶד of G-d to all people.