“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” Matthew 25:40 NASB
The least – Benevolence toward others without any expectation of gain. That’s the idea. No financial repayment. No profit. No enhanced reputation. No celebrity status. Not even the recognition of others. This is action in the dark. This is zekhut.
“There is an untranslatable Hebrew word for the matter, zekhut, meaning, ‘the heritage of superrogatory virtue and its consequent entitlement.’ In Rabbinic Judaism zekhut stands for the empowerment, of a supernatural character, that derives from the virtue of one’s ancestry or from one’s own virtuous deeds of a particular kind, specifically, deeds not commanded but impelled by utter generosity of the heart. They make a difference only when they are done without hope let alone prospect of recompense and without pressure of any kind. No single word in American English bears the same meaning, nor is there a synonym for zekhut in the canonical writings. But there is an antonym, sin.”
Notice a few things about zekhut. It is not generous giving. Far too often generous giving is a euphemism for planned distribution of wealth to take advantage of charity tax breaks. It is not dutiful compassion like taking your turn at the soup kitchen or handing out food baskets at Christmas. It isn’t even giving that extra offering when the missions chairman makes an appeal. Zekhut is strictly motivated by the move of the Spirit. It is heartfelt compulsion to care for another when there is absolutely no reason to do so. That’s when the action is god-like. That’s when the King recognizes it as if it were done to Him. No wonder there is no translation into English. The concept is inexplicable in a language based in personal fulfillment.
Notice something else about the Hebrew idea of zekhut. It is trans-generational. It has effect far beyond the lifetime of the actor. God spares many of the wicked kings because David was God’s friend. Zekhut. The jailer’s decision brings salvation to his entire household. Zekhut. The obedience of a woman produces fellowship for her children and husband. Zekhut. Ruth’s hesed heals ancient animosity. Zekhut.
I suppose this causes us to ask if we have an Hebraic view of benevolence. Are our kind acts motivated by nothing but the Spirit? Or do we respond to some other kind of pressure? Is zekhut translatable in your life? Do the “least of these” know you?
Topical Index: zekhut, benevolence, least of these, Matthew 25:40
Don’t forget the conference in Phoenix starts on May 11.
 Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, p. 122.