If not us, then who?

Behold, how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.  It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard. It is like the dew of Hermon.

You know that one right?  That’s a saying you use just like, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Or “It takes hands to build a house but it take hearts to build a home.” Or even last week’s “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it to?”

Ok, I’m guessing you don’t go around saying,

Behold, how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.  It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard. It is like the dew of Hermon.

But the ancient Israelites probably did. It’s thought that this Psalm was formed by combining a proverbial or wisdom saying with worship or liturgical images from ancient Israel.

According to Nancy de Claisse-Walford,

Psalm 133 is a proclamation of delight, sung by pilgrims traveling up to Jerusalem. … a picture of the sincere and simple pleasure of people who are bound together by their covenant with the Lord and who, having come from a great distance, anticipate with joy standing together in the courts of the temple and in sitting down together at the feast table.

This description makes me wonder whether we should be reading this Psalm at all right now. We can’t gather at our sacred place around our feast table.  Heck we can’t even gather at our own tables with people who aren’t part of our bubble.  

And yet, perhaps the Psalm does have some wisdom to offer us.  The dew mentioned in the Psalm would have been life-giving to the people – and if the dew had reached Zion from Mt. Hermon it would have been nothing short of a miracle.  So that, combined with the extravagance of oil (oil that would have been expensive and precious), suggests a beautiful life of abundance that goes part and parcel with the life of unity.

Now knowing that this Psalm was based on a proverbial saying of the day made me wonder, if we were going to write our own Psalm for today, what proverbial saying would we use as our basis?  To get some inspiration, I searched the internet for American wisdom sayings or proverbs and here is a sample of what I found:

The pen is mightier than the sword.1

Variety is the spice of life

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.2.  

If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.

I couldn’t really find anything about unity nor did my results seem to really say anything about abundance.  I decided to narrow my scope a little bit and searched for American proverbs about unity.  The results were less than impressive.  While there were some lists – none of the results were really something I hear rolling off of people’s tongues.  (As a side note, while I was searching the proverb “United we stand, divided we fall” came to mind so I looked up its origin – it’s attributed to Aesop, so not distinctly American.)

We have talked before about how our cultural narrative shapes us. So, what happens when there is no narrative about the blessing of unity?  What happens when scarcity and fear rule the day instead of committing to abundance and possibility?

As of 2019, a Pew Research study found that 65% of American adults identified as Christian and 88% of congress identifies as Christian. And yet, our country seems hopelessly divided with rhetoric and violence reinforcing our divisions – leaving out all together a narrative of unity and abundance, a narrative of the ties that bind us.

Perhaps, we are being summoned as followers of Jesus to give voice to an alternate narrative.  Not one that picks this side or that – but a narrative that is abundant enough to knit all of us together.  Our ties to one another.  To use a proverb coined by the late Rep. John Lewis, “If not us then who?  If not know then when?”  May God guide us.  Amen.

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