Human Kindness, Overflowing

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, 1 Samuel 25:1-22, Acts 14:1-18, Mark 4:21-34


David and his six hundred men camped in the wilderness outside Carmel, near the property of a wealthy man named Nabal. David sent men to tell Nabal that unlike some of the more dangerous characters roaming the wilderness they had harmed neither his shepherds nor his flock but protected them; therefore, would he spare them whatever food he could? Nabal, cranky and suspicious of runaway servants, declined. David returned with four hundred armed men, ready to kill all the males of the household.

Allowing that a refusal of hospitality was a much stronger insult in David’s culture, and that the text is clearly biased against Nabal … in this situation David is not a nice guy. Essentially he tells his troops, “Hey, boys! This guy who didn’t actually ask for our protection now refuses to compensate us for it so we’re going to slaughter his household.”

Today we call that sort of extortion a “protection racket.”

Ever heard of Nice Guy Syndrome? Simplified (maybe overly so), it’s the idea that some men who see themselves as nice believe this obliges women – especially women they’ve supported through relationships with men who are “not nice” – to consider them romantically. Less a virtue and more an objectifying strategy.

No matter how kind you are, no one (regardless of gender) owes you a date. Or a job. Or a meal. Or even gratitude. We appreciate these things. Being only human, we feel the sting of their absence. But if we feel it too keenly – if it punctures and deflates our impulse to be kind – perhaps what we value is not kindness itself, but the ego stroke of being perceived as kind.

True kindness is an expression of gratitude for God’s limitless love for us. It reflects God’s patience with our own imperfections and ingratitude. If we love only those who love us back, we do not love: we negotiate. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, love does not insist on its own way – including being returned “appropriately.” A kindness freely given is a gift to both souls, a balm which never runs dry.

Comfort: Your kindnesses, even unacknowledged, matter.

Challenge: Once a week, make a point of being kind to someone you don’t like, or who doesn’t like you.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the many kindnesses you show me daily. Amen.

Discussion: David is an example of a flawed but basically good person. How do you deal with it when your heroes or loved ones fall short of your expectations?

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