Graceful Challenges

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Listen! “For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel [us].”

What if a prophet came to your town today and started announcing this proclamation at the center of town, before City Hall? How would we respond? Would we laugh at him or her for such foolishness? Would we shake our heads with false pity, thinking of such a person as just a psychologically disturbed, homeless vagabond shouting at his or her inner demons? Would we become angry at such a person and begin to shout him or her down, or to ridicule him or her with cynical sarcasm? We do not live in an age that recognizes “prophets” unless, of course, they are Wall Street gurus predicting a bull or a bear market. We are prone to listen to such as these with a kind of faithful intent, moving our investments about in accord with their messages to us. But someone with a message like Micah’s here? Not so much.

The prophets of old were not concerned with earthly things like power and wealth. Indeed, they were a constant pain-in-the-neck to those who were powerful and wealthy. Those prophets were always confronting the powerful and criticizing the wealthy for their unjust practices and behaviors toward the lowly, the poor, and the weak. They would stand before the rulers and the wealthy and tell them exactly what God’s attitude was toward such behaviors. They had a reputation for calling a spade a spade. They did not mince their words. They were compelling the people, too, to recognize their sins and the consequences of those sins. This is exactly what the prophet Micah is doing here. In truth, then as now, we are to hear Micah’s admonition as a direct challenge aimed at each and every one of us, for we are all guilty of turning away from the Laws of God in small and sometimes great ways. God does have a case against us.

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What is the purpose of these prophetic messages? Why are they important? Why ought we heed them, even today? The reality is that these prophetic admonitions, then and now, are meant to wake us up; to get our attention. The one thing that they are not, is a final, arbitrary condemnatory message from God. They are always graceful challenges. They are meant to get us to reflect inwardly, to see our own faults and failures; to rekindle within ourselves a humble desire to turn back to God, believing in his infinite love and mercy towards us. We are not to despair at these messages, but to see in them God’s love for his wayward children. He is calling us back to ourselves, to the image and likeness we were made in. He is giving us the grace of an opportunity here, a “second chance” to turn from our sinful ways and to recover our natural balance in Him who is our Father, our Savior, and our Inspiration. Micah is simply reminding us that, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.” And he is telling us, once again, that there is only one true way to bring about justice and mercy in our families and in our societies, that is, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Listen! Do you hear? If you want justice and mercy, you must first act justly and mercifully toward all. The desire to do this cannot come from a mind or heart that is too full of itself. It is our prideful, sinful attitudes that cause us to be unjust and merciless, and yet, ironically, to demand justice and mercy from those we harm. Micah is simply reminding us that it is our decisions and actions that merit either God’s justice, or his mercy. It is not God’s desire to punish us, but to save us. This, then, is the value of the prophets and their messages.

This is a perfect reading for us to study and to contemplate during this season of Lent. It helps us to prepare ourselves for the Easter events that are the core of our Christian faith. Help us to hear Micah’s prophetic words in our own hearts today, Lord. Give us the grace to let go of our petty, prideful wills and to humbly begin walking in your ways again and again. We have faith in your loving mercy toward us. We ask you to inspire within us a humble desire to act justly and to love mercy within our families, and toward our neighbors, and, yes, even our “enemies.” Help us to love you so dearly that we, too, can become your prophets in the wounded world today. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.