It echoed throughout my childhood: my mother’s exasperated voice, entreating my brother and me to stop our constant fighting before it cut years from her harried life. She was right on one of those assertions and wrong on another: my brother and I did indeed fight a lot, but he and I will gather peacefully in Hamburg, Germany, this year to celebrate her 80th birthday with her, so she was happily wrong about the life-shortening consequences of that bickering.
Having siblings can be a uniquely rich experience, but growing up with those same siblings can be hard. Very hard.
In many languages, including English and biblical Hebrew, the same word is used for biological siblings as for those who are deeply united in a cause, such as fellow Israelites serving the Lord or fellow Christian believers in the New Testament. The biblical text contains ample testimony to both the pitfalls and the thrills of forging that outward union into an inward unity.
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” The first line of Psalm 133—likely sung as people from across Israel made their way to Jerusalem for the High Holy Days—can evoke either jubilation about a unity and togetherness that is firmly in place or a pleading reminder that much needs to be done to achieve that unity.
Either way, the rewards the psalmist mentions are tremendous.
It’s like the soothing, healing, fragrant oil from above that runs down the hair, through the beard, and onto the robe of Aaron, where it pools on his chest plate containing the 12 stones that represent Israel’s tribes. (In both Spanish and Catalan Sign Language, Aaron’s name is signed by pointing to where the stones on his chest plate would be.) It’s also like the metaphoric covering of the whole land with life-giving, refreshing moisture, all the way from Mount Hermon in the far north to Jerusalem in the south.
Complete unity. Oneness, given from above.
See the rest of the lectionary with data from the Translation Insights & Perspectives tool right here.
For another perspective on the same text see Forgive and Forget?