An invitation to messy & excessive compassion
I confess: I have an extreme tendency to be orderly. I am driven by Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. Some would say that I am Anal Retentive. Some would say that I have a stick up my….
For this reason, I tend to have a negative reaction—a gut repulsion—to Psalm 133: “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, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes….”
I am creeped out by the idea of oil being poured onto a person’s head, running down that person’s head, onto his beard, through his beard, and drenching the robe he is wearing.
But Psalm 133 holds this out as good, and likens it to the good that happens when people live together in a mutually caring community of faith.
What this psalm helps me to face is that Christian care is both good and messy. Any way I look at it, oil that runs down one’s head to one’s beard to one’s clothes is messy! And any way I look at it, genuine care between two or more real people is always going to get a bit messy. Any effort to keep us away from messiness will also keep us away from genuine care for others. British pop star Cliff Richard discovered this truth while visiting a Bihari refugee camp in Bangladesh many years ago. He shares, “That first morning I must have washed my hands a dozen times. I didn’t want to touch anything, least of all the people. Everyone in those camps was covered with sores and scabs. I was bending down to one little mite, mainly for the photographer’s benefit, and trying hard not to have too close a contact. Just then, someone accidentally stood on the child’s fingers. He screamed and, as a reflex, I grabbed him, forgetting his dirt and his sores. I remember that warm little body clinging to me and the crying instantly stopping. In that moment I knew I had much to learn about practical Christian loving, but that at least I’d started.”
This psalm also helps me to face the fact that genuine Christian care is both good and extravagant. It was not just a little bit of oil that was dabbed on Aaron’s head; it was so much oil that it ran down his head to his beard, and down his beard to his robe. And it was not just spare oil that happened to be lying around. It was, according to Exodus 30:22-33, a special blend of the finest spices: of olive oil, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and cane. Nothing was held back out of stinginess. And that’s how Christian love should be as well.
Many years ago, Grace Richardson Long shared a story in Reader’s Digest. She wrote, “As a single parent, I worried about coping with chores when we moved from the city into the country. However, a grandfatherly neighbor helped me with repair work. Then he died and his wife was alone for the first time in her life. Knocks on Mary Lou’s door went unanswered, but she always went to the post office at 2 p.m. I just happened to show up there with fresh baked bread. She thanked me and left. Two days later I was back with a casserole. Soon other townspeople began appearing with food. One day Mary Lou wasn’t there, and the smiling postmistress handed me this note: ‘Dear Friends, You have helped me through a most difficult time. Since I can’t possibly eat all the food you’ve been bringing me, and the freezer’s full, you’re invited to supper tomorrow night at six.’”
How many wonderful miracles like that do I miss out on when I am driven more by my compulsion to be neat and orderly than by a love that is willing to get messy? Or when I am constrained by stinginess rather than by a love that is willing to be excessive?