The following reflection is taken from a sermon entitled “Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly” based on Micah 6.1-8.
The trial of God vs. the people is brought to order. The mountains, the surrounding hills are selected as the jury. The earth, the Promised Land, serves as judge. The question: “Who has been faithful to the covenant?” God speaks first,
“My people, what have I done to you?
How have I burdened you? Answer me.” (v. 3)
We can almost hear the prolonged silence as God waits for some word of explanation. But there is none. The people have taken advantage of God’s blessings. They have relied on his powerful presence to liberate them, to guide them, to rescue them, and now that they are safe in the Promised Land just want him to go away. They are eager to flex their muscles of independence and God’s presence reminds them they did not in fact pick themselves up by their bootstraps.
It’s hard to understand how people can be so callous toward God, but we can see it in the world today. I’ve known people who have been rescued from what should have been fatal accidents turn away from God’s protective hand and jump right back into risky and careless behavior. I’ve known people who were lifted out of extreme poverty buy into the myth that they were self-achievers and fail to give credit to God, from whom all blessings flow. I’ve known people who were once lost in life be guided by angelic messages from God, only to later scoff at the prospect and walk right back into the fog of a confused world.
All of us are vulnerable to the indictment that we have forgotten what God has done for us. If you were asked, point blank, what has God done for you in your life, how would you respond? Would you have something to say or would you, like the people of Israel, leave God waiting in agonizing silence.
The people have abandoned God. Their silence is an admission of this. Evidence is then introduced that God has remained faithful to the covenant. God has freed the people from slavery in Egypt. God, through Moses, Miriam & Aaron, has guided the people through the wilderness. As they entered the Promised Land, God shielded them from their enemies, turning human curses into divine blessings. These are just a sampling of saving acts, but God chooses to rest his case.
Verse 6 represents a shift in the proceedings.
“With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?”
Micah, speaking on behalf of the people seems to be plea-bargaining. How can we restore our relationship with you, Lord? What will it cost us to make amends? The people had grown accustomed to paying for their sins through ritual offerings-calves, rams, precious oil. Some of their neighbors had even gone so far as offer up human sacrifices to appease their gods. Micah raises the radical question of the Lord, “Is this what you want from us? Will this remove the stain of our sin, restore our relationship, give us a fresh start?”
Israel has a problem. The guilty stain of sin will not be washed away by ritual sacrifice. While these were a part of the worship life of Israel, they were little more than temporary measures which reminded the people all was not right.
As God’s mouthpiece, Micah says clearly in verse 8 that such sacrifices are not what the Lord is looking for.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
The people, we, have without a doubt, sinned. We sin when we fail to appreciate God’s blessings in our lives. We violate our covenant with God when we take advantage of God’s faithfulness. When we refuse to respond with faith, we are digging ourselves deeper into a dark pit of despair and destruction.
God shows us the way out. Jesus Christ is the Way. Jesus shows us how to do justice. In his life, he cared deeply for all persons. He responded particularly to the cries of those others wanted to silence or ignore—lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, those possessed by demons. Jesus saw in the eyes of each person he met sin were turned off by his refusal to play favorites, but those who had hit rock bottom were able to receive his healing forgiveness. Jesus shows us how to do justice.
Jesus also shows us how to love mercy. This is not to say Jesus simply wore a pasted smile like an extended firm handshake. The word translated here “mercy” implies loyalty and faithfulness. It is doing the most loving thing, even for those you don’t like, even when you don’t feel like it. Jesus says we are to take this even to the extent of loving our enemies, of sacrificing our own comfort so that we can serve brothers and sisters in Christ, even when we think they don’t deserve it. Jesus demonstrates this when he puts Judas, the one who would eventually betray him, in charge of the treasury for his ministry. He shows this most clearly by his willingness to endure humiliation, torture, and even death on a cross, so that we might have new life in Christ.
Finally, Jesus shows us how to walk humbly with God. Jesus was in constant communication with God. He was always talking to “Abba”, talking about the “Father”. His walk with God was not an effort to exert greater influence over others. He did not seek power or privilege from God. Instead, he sought guidance, strength and courage to do the difficult tasks he was called to do. The humility of Jesus allowed him to stay focused on his mission. He was not distracted to mount a popular uprising. He did not garner support for himself in order to be lifted up out of the harsh realities of life. He kept doing what he had been called to do, just when he was called to do it. He resisted the many temptations of fame by walking with God daily, humbly, growing in faith and love.
While none of us can fully follow the faith of Jesus in this life, we are inspired by the Spirit of Christ to faithfully do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Our world cries out for such faithfulness.