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Transforming the World Through Loving-Kindness

Loving-kindness is a wonderful word, perhaps the best. The concept that it connotes is found in a variety of source material. In Buddhism, that concept is called metta, and is variously translated as benevolence, amity, friendliness. In fact, a whole type of meditation is based on metta, wherein one begins by meditating upon loving oneself, and, as one gains in this exercise, the field of loving-kindness then proceeds outward, encompassing next a person close to you, then others, gradually, until finally the whole sentient world is loved.

In ancient Israel, the word translated as loving-kindness is chesed, variously used to mean kindness, love, faithfulness, mercy, forgiveness. Initially and most often it is applied to God and God’s attitude/role in the covenant between the deity and Israel, the subject of his love. Inasmuch as Israel, the bride of God, is continually unfaithful in her love affairs with other gods, God’s loving-kindness is a continual forgiveness and reaching out in love. So basic is chesed that if one asks who God is, one could answer “God is chesed”.

In later Jewish thought, keeping the Torah and living a life of virtue meant living a life of chesed, and that in turn was a key element in tikkun olam, repairing the world. Loving-kindness repairs the world.

The Greeks used the word agape to signify unconditional love, a love distinct from eros (sexual) and philia, (brotherly). Agape, applied to both God and human is a concept basic to the early Christian church. It connotes unconditionality and acceptance with no need for or expectation of reciprocity. In many ways, it is the essence of discipleship as well as the essence of God.

In the disciples’ encounter with Jesus they had discovered two things: what it meant to be a human being and also who God was. The medium of those discoveries, if you will, was Jesus’ loving-kindness. He was not filled with hate or indifference or interpersonal blindness. He was filled with agape. He was filled with chesed. He was filled with metta.

The loving-kindness of the man Jesus is the key to our understanding our self and our God, and that loving-kindness is found in both his life and his teaching. Indeed, is there anything about Jesus that is not loving-kindness? Even if a story or teaching is one that was later attributed to Jesus, is there any that is not based on love?

Think of the images we are given. A rich young man asks what he must do to gain eternal life…and the answer is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Zacchaeus the tax collector climbs a tree to see Jesus because he is short…only to be invited down, for Jesus said he would stay at his house that night. A sick person is healed…rise up and go in peace. A father embraces his prodigal son, who was lost but is now alive again.

And hanging on the cross, Forgive them; they know not what they do.

Lest we romanticize Jesus as simply a kind man, we must remember that loving-kindness incorporates the refusal to simply accept either the blindness or the brutality that surrounded him. His life and teaching were a call to everyone he met to rise above the social convention of the time and to seek a higher plane. He had no affection for spiritual sloth. Seek the light and let your light shine. Leave behind what culture says you must be, and be born again. Open your eyes. Follow me.

And his attack on the economic exploitation that formed the basis of the domination system was total. If we would understand the full force of Jesus’ life and teaching, we must never forget that the rich and powerful who steal from the orphan and the widow are the antipathy of that Kingdom for which Jesus gave his life. A life of loving-kindness is not a life of quietism, but a life of protest.

As we think of our own life, what else should we focus on beside loving-kindness? What else is there to fill our life with meaning? Nothing. And this loving-kindness is not something that we do in addition to working at our job or taking care of the kids or washing the dishes. It is a level of consciousness and expression that becomes manifest precisely as we live our life. If that level is missing, then we are less than we can be. But if it is there, then the fullness is ours.

Of course, we are different from one another and do not all experience this fulness in the same way. Hindu understanding describes four types of personalities, and therefore four corresponding life-styles or yoga to seek enlightenment. The first is action, wherein acts of love for others is where we find our fulfillment. The second yoga is the way of loving-kindness that is fulfilled in thinking and teaching. Third is meditation. And last is devotion to the deity. They are different paths for different people, with the same goal, all paths of loving-kindness.

Transformation of the world is both our topic for today and our goal in life, and really, the only way to transform the world is with loving-kindness. It changes us and enables us to grow, just as it beneficially impacts the world about us. It is a good word. Perhaps the best.

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