“How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!”
The psalm for today is uplifting and reflects the blessing of living in community. The psalmist compares this kind of unified living to “precious oil” running down the beard of Aaron and “the dew of Hermon which falls on the mountains of Zion.” These images are of joy and beauty, and they suggest that when there is community of true sharing and love, God’s gracious anointing is on the people.
Yet in the other passages appointed for this day, we find Jeremiah (Jer. 26:1–16), Elijah (Rom. 11:1–12), and Jesus (John 10:19–42) each being threatened by angry mobs. The groups of people are upset because these prophets spoke the words that God had given to them. They were carrying out God’s calling on their lives, and the people threatened to punish them for it. These passages ring more true to real life than the psalm. Admittedly, most of us do not experience persecution that leads to torture or death. But each of us faces turmoil of varying degrees throughout life. Whether it is the loss of a job, a conflict with a peer, or the struggle to stay in the Ph.D. race, each of us faces hardships that challenge our notions of community—that cause us to mistrust or detest those around us.
In these times, we should strive to remain true to our calling as God’s “people,” not just God’s “person.” Through this, we recognize our connection to the other. Through this, we can learn to not only tolerate those we disagree with; we can learn to love them as our neighbors. This is not to imply that we will always come to agreement; nor does it mean it will always be easy. It rarely is. Instead, it changes the challenge from being “how do I deal with _________?” to “how can I best live as a member of God’s covenant community in this situation?” This distinction allows us to pursue community, instead of our own ends. It removes our idols, to refocus us on our call to glorify God together. And eventually, just as times of fasting remind us how much we enjoy feasts, our times of strife and conflict will remind us of the joy we experience in peace and friendship.
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