Love in Action
Parashat Ki Tetse, Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
by Jonathan Roush, Beth Messiah Congregation, Montgomery Village, MD
Our Torah portion this week is full of principles guiding how the people of Israel are to interact with each other in daily, civil life. These laws range from dividing up property and inheritance to how to treat corpses. It talks about treatment of slaves and prostitutes, safety in house building, and more. Rules and regulations abound, but I contend that they are an outworking of what the passage is really about. Ki Tetse is about love. There are all kinds of love, and I hope that you will come to see, as I have, that in this wonderful section of Scripture “Love” is actually at the core of what we read.
The passage reminds me of John 21:15-17 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels), where Yeshua instructs Peter: “Feed my sheep,” then, “Tend my sheep,” and finally, “Feed my sheep.”
These weren’t glib suggestions. He wasn’t saying, “Hey, if you love me here are some things you can do.” Instead this series of transactions needs to be read as “if/then” statements: ”If you love me then . . .”
Of all the things Yeshua could have told Peter, why these three? I hardly think that Yeshua’s record was skipping. He was making clear that love and devotion to Israel’s Messiah requires action. “If you love me, then you will do . . .”
What action(s) are we called to? Yeshua employs the analogy of the shepherd and sheep. A shepherd has to do certain things in order to take care of the sheep.
“Feed my sheep.” The Greek word bos–ko literally means “to feed”; much as the prodigal son fed the pigs in Luke 15:15.
“To tend” or “shepherd” my sheep is poi-ma-i-no. This Greek word carries more weight than the previous word, bosko, does. It implies a more holistic and full-bodied approach, not simply feeding someone, but caring for the entire person.
The third thing Yeshua says to Peter echoes the first thing: “Feed my sheep,” again bosko.
“If you love me . . . act.” Straightforward. “If you love me, feed my sheep,” “care for my sheep,” and once again, “feed my sheep.”
There are different ways to feed people. The first is literally to make sure that people have food. The second is spiritual nourishment.
Let’s see if we can put even more flesh on these ideas by looking at Matthew 25 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels).
In verses 35 and 36 what are the things that Yeshua says were done?
I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you have me a drink. I was traveling, and you took me in, naked, and you covered me, sick, and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.
This is the feeding, tending, and shepherding that Yeshua talks about in John 21, bosko and poimaino. Caring for the whole person, the tangible needs and the intangible needs, including spiritual ones.
Those who did the feeding and tending, those who acted, are told, “Come, those who are blessed of my Father and possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
What a temptation it is for us to talk loud and long about the problems we see in the world, yet here we see that it is the doers who are welcomed in.
The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “not be a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). This applies to us. Don’t talk. Go do. Everyone talks, but a woeful few go and do.
Picking up at Matthew 25:41—
Go away from me those who are cursed . . . for I was hungry, but you did not feed me. I was thirsty, but you did not give me a drink. I was traveling, but you did not take me in: naked, but you did not cover me; sick and in prison, but you did not visit me.
These are those who spoke but didn’t do.
“Do you love me?” “Feed my lambs.” Make sure they have enough food.
“Do you love me?” “Tend my sheep.” Watch over their well-being, and make sure they are taken care of.
Again, “Do you love me??” “Feed my sheep.” Make sure they are being nurtured with the words and teachings of the Messiah.
A few years ago in The Set Table (an online study guide), Jen Rosner summed up the passage in John wonderfully. “Like Peter, we cling to a biblical narrative that is carried forward by decisive acts of G-d. And yet, G-d has not chosen to act alone in the drama.” Our “passage demonstrates anew that G-d has called us to partner with him in the ongoing work of redemption.”
Yes, we are active partners. Perhaps this responsibility can be a little scary.
In last week’s UMJC drash on Parashat Shof’tim Dr. Patrice Fischer rightfully pointed out that we must count the cost of discipleship. Our acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah is not and cannot be a passive thing. It is a call to us for decisive action in this world. It’s a command to each of us and for each of us to “do”.
However, we must still peel back the “Why all of these commandments?”
Once we do, we find that what we read in Ki Tetse is meant to mold and shape how we think about others in relationship to ourselves (not the other way around). We are shown how to love the other and to love each other through deliberate thought and action. We are shown a way of life where we take care of each other and where we are to be mindful of the consequences of our actions and our inaction(s). Ki Tetse is not about restrictions as much as it is about love for each other and treating each other with the sort of care that the people of God must be known for.
Let us be careful to walk in obedience to Yeshua, quietly leaving a wake of his love and care behind us for all those with whom we come into contact. And may we be less clanging cymbal as we remember the exhortation, “Children, let us not love with word or talk, but in deed and truth!” (1 John 3:18 TLV).