1Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with His people,
and He will contend with Israel.
3‘O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
5O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.’
6‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?
7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
My first thought, when reading this passage from Micah for today’s reflection, was that God is angry with the church of today for losing sight of what He had done for it over thousands of years. We only have to think of the public scandals, such as sexual misconduct, failure to protect children, and taking scripture out of context for our own benefit, to see that much is not right with our institutional response to God.
The first five verses are a display of God’s righteous anger towards His chosen flock, for all too easily following ways which have taken them from Him. Here is an appeal to the Hebrew people to remember what happened in the past when they strayed, and what happened when they returned their focus to God. Putting that in the context of today’s world, are we paying attention to the lessons which should have been learned from the Royal Commission into Institutional Respose to Child Sexual Abuse? Are we looking at other situations in which we might find ourselves complicit in activity which goes against God’s teaching. I am reminded of Matthew 28:19, which is often quoted to those who have offered themselves for ordination and been rejected. What is too frequently used to imply that people feel called but God, in the guise of the church, has not chosen them, but what if we read this quip from Jesus as many are called by God, but few are chosen by the humans who run the institution, with their own prerequisites in mind?
When we shift to verses 5-7 we get a bemused response from those who have been listening to God’s complaint. In the time of this writing it was common to build an altar and offer an animal as a sacrifice to God, but here the response is ‘it appears we have stuffed more significantly than before, so let’s increase the number of animals we might offer.’ The response even goes so far as to offer offspring from the offender, as if that will cure the problem. Jesus would later tell us that there is no need for burnt offerings, just a commitment to living with God instead of trying to live without Him.
I hear the cry “not again. Why do I have to tell them this so many times?” in the reply given in verse 8. “He has told you, mortal …” and yet they have not been listening, or have forgotten their commitment. Yet again we have the instruction which will bring us closer to God, if we are willing to listen and act. We, yes we in the 21st century, are to act with justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. What does that really mean for us, today?
If we act with justice we will see that rules at all levels are applied the same for everyone, not a privileged few or those in power; we will see that genuine refugees are not kept in detention centres for no more of a crime than fleeing repressive régimes; we will see that people in need are helped, rather than blame them for their predicament; we will respect the wisdom and experience of everyone, especially those who don’t have political status; and we will stand up for justice everywhere. That’s a tough call.
If we love kindness we will follow its example, and will do what we can to make life better for those around us. Do we give enough of our excesses to the poor and needy? Do we offer people transport when we can easily do so (or do we commute into the city one person to a car)? Do we consider suggestions from people outside our group, or reject them because we know better? When we invaded the Great South Land in 1788 did we treat the long-term residents of the land as intelligent people who could teach us things, or do we treat them as unintelligent savages because they didn’t understand our language and had no guns to kill each other? Kindness goes hand in hand with respect. That’s tough too!
If we want to walk humbly with God we need to remember what it means to be humble. It’s not about being compliant; it’s not about being submissive; it’s about letting God have responsibility for what He has done, instead of trying to take credit for things ourelves. It’s also about letting others work with God and not claiming it’s our role to do everything. Many are called, by God, but few are chosen my mortals because they have their own agendas to consider. I suspect we all fall into that trap on a frequent basis, but how often do we reflect on our failings?
Of course, being a Christian does not mean being perfect. The only perfect human who walked this earth lived for less than 40 years nearly 2000 years ago. Jesus told us that the first and great commandment is to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and with all our strength, and a second is like it: we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves. A group which meets regularly in the parish I attend has some cups with the motto: “Try. Fail, Learn. Repeat” I recommend it to everyone.
If you are interested in the reflection on the gospel passage for Epiphany 4 (The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12) see www.frends.biz/reflections/29th-january-2017