The koan of Mathew, 25, 31-46
Humans love power, the fallen power that ‘lords it over’, and so our king must be ‘above’ the least in the kingdom, the outsiders, the weak, the broken, the tramps by the wayside, the futile, the impaired, the sore affronted and hurtfully afflicted. The ruler, by a visceral instinct in the people, is to be looked up to as in every way far above these denizens of the lower echelons where humanity fails. The stench of the Pit is upon these people. They reek of the odour of decay= the rotten, the putrid, their life is decomposed by the process of wasting away; it is foul smelling, corrupt, unsound, unsatisfactory, worth nothing. By contrast, those who arrive at the top are the very converse of all that wretchedness. Only the top-most, in power and money, get the validation of being ‘worth a lot.’ They sit at the top table because they earned it, by getting ahead and getting to the top of the heap. They smell clean, and wear that sharp perfume of the rich, and would never allow themselves to be besmirched by the human trash at the bottom.
The Messiah is a different king.
He is revealed in the least, because he understands what the least reveal= the brokenness in everyone, but disavowed by the winners and put on the losers.
The Messianic King says= in as much as you did it to one of the least of these broken, you did it to me.
Christ was hungry and you gave him meat.
Christ was thirsty and you gave him drink.
Christ was a stranger, and you took him in.
Christ was naked, and you clothed him.
Christ was sick, and you visited him.
Christ was in prison, and you came to him.
You did this when you fed the least, welcomed the least, protected the least, consoled the least.
And when you refused to do this, you refused Christ.
And when you refused to do this, you refused your own least, and withheld it from Christ.
To withhold our own brokenness, because we foolishly believe in the special Tower we have constructed over the common Pit, is to refuse the only remedy for our own hunger and thirst, our own aloneness, our own poverty, our own sickness, our own imprisonment.
It is better, for those few in the Tower sneering at the unwashed mass in the Pit, that lightning strike the Tower, and bring it ‘down’, so that the proud in heart know they too are defeated= living lives of no value, lives that are worthless, lives invested in what will unravel and spoil.
Or is it better that a cloying, and sickly sweet perfume thinly disguises the stink of death?
The Last Judgement is rooted in a contrast between, not ‘the good and the evil’, not ‘the righteous and the unrighteous’, not ‘the ethical and the immoral’, but in the existential difference between the proud of heart and the broken in heart.
For the proud of heart, their own brokenness is denied, and repressed, and therefore the people in the world who blatantly live out, who openly manifest, this brokenness are ignored, rejected, derided, or condescendingly given cold ‘charity.’
For those brought low by existence, and forced to become aware of and ‘carry’ the brokenness deeper down in everyone, charity takes on a very different meaning.
Rabbinical Tradition has things to say about charity that pertain directly to the Messianic King bound to ‘the least’ in humanity.
This is why poverty is close to God, and why the way in which everyone deals with those living in poverty – not only spiritual but also material – is a ‘final judgement’ on their own heart= where it stands to others in need reveals where it stands to God in its own need. As Rabbi Chaim Clorfene and Rabbi Yakov Rogalsky put it= “if one has mercy on others, God has mercy on him.” These scholars provide succinct, and pointed, commentaries from the Talmud.
The faith of charity= “cast your bread upon the waters, and you will find it after many days” [Ecclesiastes, 11, 1].
The point of charity= “charity rescues from death” [Proverbs, 10, 2].
The spirit of charity= “the life of your brother is with you” [Leviticus, 25, 36].
The commandment of charity= “you should not harden your heart, nor should you close your hand from your poor brother” [Deuteronomy, 15, 7].
God is close to poverty-stricken people= “and the cry of the poor will he hear” [Job, 34, 28].
Everyone has the obligation to give charity according to their ability= “a little charity from a poor man is considered as worthy as a great amount given by a rich person. As the sages say, ‘when one offers a sacrifice, it does not matter if.. it is a large offering or a small offering, the main criterion is that the giver directs his heart to Yahweh, his father in heaven’ [Babylonian Talmud, Menahot, 110a].”
Every community has an obligation “to your brother, to your poor, to your needy” [Deuteronomy, 15, 11]= “the community should supply every need that a poor person lacks. The people of the city are obligated to supply him with whatever he is lacking.. and they should give it to him discreetly, so that few know he is receiving it.”
The challenge of charity= “one who wants to conduct himself in an honourable way should conquer his evil inclination and widen his hand. Anything that is done for the glory of God should be done gracefully. If he feeds a starving person, he should feed him with the finest foods that he can offer. When he clothes someone who is threadbare, he should clothe him in the finest apparel he can offer.”
The graciousness of charity= “and your heart shall not grieve when you give to him” [Deuteronomy, 15, 10], and= “if anyone gives charity to a poor person, and gives it with a sour countenance and a feeling of condescension, even if he gives gold pieces, he has lost all the merit of his actions. One must give with a sense of joy and a cheerful countenance, and he should console the poor person on his tribulations, cheering him with words of comfort.”
The obligation of charity= “it is forbidden to reject the requests of a poor person and turn him away empty handed even if all one can afford at the time is a morsel of food. If there is really nothing in one’s hand to give, then one should say kind words to the person indicating that he sincerely wishes to give him something, but that it is not possible at this time.”
The warning against disparagement= “it is forbidden to rebuke or raise your voice to the poor, as their hearts are already broken and humbled. Woe to one who disgraces a poor person. Rather one should be like a parent to the poor, demonstrating mercy in deed and word.”
The requirement of forbearance= “If one distributes money to the poor and the poor in turn insult him, he should not be concerned, because his merit is now far greater because of the humiliation he has borne.”
Do not brag= “one should attempt, if at all possible, to give charity secretly. The best way of giving charity is when the giver does not know to whom the money is going and the receiver does not know from whom it came. One should not boast about one’s personal acts of charity; self-glorifying causes the merit that has been attained to be lost.”
Charity is not to be abused by the needy= “a person should try to avoid becoming the recipient of charity. Even suffering hardship is preferable to becoming dependent upon another person. Nevertheless, others should not be subject to hardship, such as one’s wife and child, because of an unwillingness to take charity.”
The broken in heart know they need God’s redeeming. This is why they can be redeemed.
The proud of heart deny they need God’s redeeming. This is why they put up a barrier against being redeemed.
It is not, with those resisting redemption, that God finds them wanting. It is that those resisting redeeming find God wanting. They put away the need in their own heart, as they wash their hands of the need in other hearts.
There is a possibility that remains open, beyond even this most ultimate of all divine judgement. If the proud in heart finally embrace their own brokenness, they return to reality.
Only when they are humbled in heart will they reach out to the humbled in heart in the wider world, and understand the relevance of the humbled king, the suffering and inverted Messiah, to the common condition deepest in all humanity.