Recently I received an email from a magazine which is to be launched in January 2019.
Its aim is to help create a better planet for everyone. They believe that showing a little kindness is what the world needs now. The Lord Major of London Sadiq Khan also spoke about the importance of being ‘kind’ especially in politics and everyday life.
I have a wood burning stove and after getting the chimney swept in the summer it was recommended that I replace the fire cement around the flue at the top of the stove. I visited a local supplier to purchase the new fire cement and was pleasantly surprised to find that when I was due to pay, for no apparent reason apart from being kind to me, he said that I could have it for free.
That incident reminded me of the Greek fable by Aesop concerning the actions of the North wind and the sun. The wind said to the sun that he could get a traveller on earth to take off his coat quicker than the sun could. The sun gave way and let the north wind blow. The stronger the wind blew the more determined the man was to cling on to his coat and then eventually the wind gave up. The sun retuned to shine brightly and after a while the man moped his brow and then took his coat off because of the gentle warmth of the sun.The moral of the fable is that ‘kindness and persuasion’ as represented by the sun, is often far better than force as experienced with the North wind.
Back in the day, a story is told of acts of kindness that included three central characters all linked together. A woman and her husband decided to leave their home nation because of a famine in the land. They moved to a country nearby with their two sons where they could settle and find food and security. They established a home, found work and in time the two sons married two local women.
However, loss came to visit the family when initially the husband of the woman died and then a few years later the two sons both died. Such a tragedy meant that the lady and her two daughter in laws had to reassess their personal circumstances.
In time the lady decided to return to her homeland and initially the two daughter in laws said they would go with her. After much discussion only one daughter in law travelled with her whilst the other remained in the hope of getting married again. When the two women returned to the town where their family had lived they were welcomed and recognised. The daughter in law worked in a local field at the time of harvest and gleaned wheat and barley that was left over.
As an act of kindness and support to the family, a relative of the widowed husband, offered to buy some family land. The daughter in law went on to marry the relative who was recognised as a ‘kinsman redeemer.’ Together they had an important son who was a forerunner of a future king.
This story is a ‘love story’ full of incident, sadness, kindness and restoration. It reminds us that in whatever circumstances of life, simple ‘loving kindness’ is everywhere but we have to recognise and ackowledge it.
The story I refer to is found in the Old Testament and known as the book of Ruth. It is often retold during the feast of Pentecost and the three characters are Naomi, Ruth and Boaz.
It’s important at this point to think about the reactions of Naomi. Having lost her husband Elimelech and two sons Mahlon and Chilion she sought to support and be kind to her daughter in laws Ruth and Orpah. Naomi was vulnerable, destitute and had little security and income at a time when male authority dominated. In Ruth chapter 1 v 20 Naomi offers an assessment of her situation. “Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full and I have returned empty.”
In thinking about Ruth she made a decision to travel with Naomi back to their homeland of Bethlehem where they were welcomed. In chapter 1 v 16 Ruth says to Naomi “where you go I will go, where you live I will live, your people shall be my people and your God will be my God.” Together they resettled as two vulnerable women.
Then there was Boaz, an older man who kindly offered physical protection and provision for Ruth. He had noted the kindness that Ruth had shown to Naomi at a personal cost. He then offered to buy the family field which included taking responsibility for Ruth as a future wife. Boaz had to refer the sale to another relative who declined the offer. Ruth and Boaz then married and bore a son Obed who was the father of King David and a relative of Jesus.
I wonder when you last experienced a random act of kindness or initiated one yourself just for the sheer joy of it.
The Hebrew word ‘Hesed’ is hard to translate into English but represents acts of ‘loving kindness’ that are not self-motivated but are full of devotion, faithfulness, goodness, loyalty and mercy.
In considering this ‘story of hesed’ think of a place beside a lake, river or sea side. Take a smooth pebble and throw it into the water and see how many ‘ripples’ or ‘skims’ it produces on the water. The man in the shop who gifted me the free fire cement is not aware that I am referring to him in this blog and how his simple act of kindness has ‘rippled’ affecting many others.
So in the different seasons of life may we celebrate small acts of kindness which Naomi, Ruth and Boaz showed? May those ‘ripples of loving kindness’ (hesed) influence us all in the public and private spheres of life for many years to come.