“Act justly” #1

“He has showed you, O man, 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.” Micah 6:8

I’m writing this on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March in Washington on August 28, 1963 and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. I was only 8 years old when it happened and had no idea about what was going on at the time. I was more interested in finding some magical way to keep my summer vacation going in perpetuity. I was having way too much fun playing ball and wading in the creek to go back to sitting indoors memorizing multiplication tables and learning about the Gold Rush. But, whether I knew it or not, something big was happening that made our world a better place to live over the last 50 years.

Now I see the relevance of King’s dream and what the march stood for. If you haven’t heard the speech in a while, you can get it online, or better yet, go to the library and get the audio recordings of The Landmark Speeches and Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Previously, I had only heard pieces of his speeches and sermons on the radio. I am now convinced that he was one of the greatest prophets in the 20th Century. I could go on and on about him and those captivating messages of his, but do yourself a favor and check these out. Be prepared to be moved by what that great man preached to his (and every) generation.

But something I read five decades after the speech sort of p***ed me off. It was an article of a very well-known Christian author and psychologist that was recently published in our denominational online newsletter. He used – and I mean “used” – Micah’s beautiful passage to make his point, a valid point in itself about our personal relationships (that’s what psychologists do for a living – a good living at that), but a point that was absolutely unfaithful to the prophet’s word and revealed a disappointing ignorance to the biblical concept of “justice.”

“He has showed you, O man, 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.” Micah 6:8

The point that the Doctor of Psych made was how much we need to balance “justice” and “mercy” in negotiating our personal relationships. Be sure to stand up for what’s right for yourself and balance that against being merciful and kind. You’ll get along with people much better if you do.

OK, I agree with the premise, but what irked me was two-fold. First, his comments are so incredibly out of context of the passage; and second, he interpreted Micah’s message through the murky lens of the privileged and prosperous white middle-class Christian “biblical” worldview. I elaborate.

When Micah and all his fellow prophets spoke about “justice,” how we get what’s due us in our circle of friends and family is not what was on their minds. In fact, you might even be able to make a case that this idea of “justice for me” concept reflects a diametrically opposite value of Micah’s prophecy. Getting justice (fair treatment) for one’s self was absolutely not the message that God gave his prophet. When he and his fellow preachers (Isaiah and Amos in particular) spoke about justice it usually, if not always, had to do with assuring fair treatment for others – for those who couldn’t get it for themselves i.e. widows, orphans, the poor, aliens, and other oppressed and disadvantaged people. “Liberty and justice for all” not just for me.

The good Doctor’s article reflects how self-centered we privileged Baby Boomers are and how we’ve overlooked, if not eluded, the social justice message in the Bible. The prophet isn’t talking about how to get along with your spouse or how to get all we deserve from the people around us. What made Micah – and no doubt God himself – “miserable” (7:1) was how his people used and abused their own fellow humans for their own benefit.

[In part two I’ll ask you what “Sodom’s sin” was and other things…]

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One thought on ““Act justly” #1

  1. Julie Anne Torres

    Bravo, Bravo, Bravo Barney!!! This has been so much on my heart for many years now. This is the reason I went back to school. This is the reason I abandoned an almost complete degree to start from scratch. ..and a hint, Sodom’s sin has nothing to do with sexuality…

    Reply

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