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Friday, 20 September 2013

Harmony and Oil?

There’s a description of unity and harmony in Scripture that is hard for the modern mind to appreciate.  The psalmist says that when people get along it is as valuable as the following:
   “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes” (Psalm 133:2).
   I would guess that the image of oil running down a man’s head and face, saturating his beard would lead to thoughts of disgust to most readers today.  When a person tends towards oily hair, specific shampoo is chosen to combat it.  Imagining such a quantity of oil, say a bottle of Italian dressing, being poured on someone does not have any positive association.
   Let me help you understand this image a little more.  The value of olive oil in ancient times was huge.  As the only type of oil available, it was used not only for daily cooking and baking but also as medicine, cosmetics and soap.  Add to this the Hebrew custom of saving oil of finest quality for the religious practice of anointing—setting apart a person (Aaron, and those who succeeded him) for service to God by pouring oil on his head.
Panathenic amphora,
from the British Museum website.
   While chaperoning at a field trip to the Royal Ontario Museum, the value of oil was underscored in a new way.  The guide referred to a large amphora vase from Ancient Greece that was given as a prize to the winning athletes at the ancient Panathenic Games.  With a capacity was 10 gallons (or 37.85 litres) of oil, it represented a lifetime supply of oil!
   In monetary terms pouring something this valuable on a person seems like an incredible waste.  But, in fact, it was saying that the relationship between God and his people is more precious than the most valuable commodity the culture knew.  Now, if this is the comparison for the value of unity between fellow human beings, we had better take notice.

   What are the most valuable commodities in our culture?  Let’s begin with property, net worth, pension plans, retirement dreams.  Pride, three square meals a day, standing up for your rights quickly follow.  If we really grasped the value of relationships, would we not swallow our pride and even spend time in fasting and prayer in order to restore a broken relationship?  Wouldn’t it be worth giving up some of our rights to win over a brother or sister?  In God’s economy, the most opulent thing is harmony and the love that makes it possible.

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