- Act Justly
- Love Mercy
- Walk Humbly
What could these mean in practical terms, in my country? In my church? In my life personally, in my family, school or work?
White each phrase on a large piece of paper, perhaps different colours, and brainstorm some ideas for how these could look in our world today.
When you have finished. Read the sheets prayerfully, and pick out one or two things that you can practically do in the next week. Write it on a slip of paper and carry it with you as a reminder. Ask God to help you and review how it has gone after a week.
Micah 6:8 is quite a fashionable verse – you’ll find it on wristbands, badges, shopping bags – even on babygrows!
‘Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.’ Sounds pretty good. Nothing controversial. All good things for a Christian to do (and the first two apply to everyone). We can nod in agreement and happily tick those off – tick, tick, tick – that was quick and easy, wasn’t it?
The Reflectionary is free because I believe this stuff is important, but I still kinda need to make a living. (hint, hint)
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It’s the same with the beatitudes. We’ve heard them lots of times, ‘blessed are the meek’, ‘blessed are the merciful’, and so on. They’re so famous they even made it into Monty Python with ‘blessed are the cheese makers’ (and other manufacturers of dairy products).
All very comforting and pretty. They make great inspirational posters, usually on a background of meadow flowers. We all agree and nod. Tick, tick, tick.
But what comes after tick, tick, tick?
This stuff is dynamite! It’s mad! Completely bonkers!
It’s a blessing to be poor? I’m not sure many folks at the food bank would agree.
It’s a blessing to be persecuted? I call it a blessing that I live in a country where I don’t have to worry about that.
We might as well say, ‘Blessed are you when you contract food poisoning, for you will lose that weight you’ve been trying to shift since Christmas.’ Funny, but if you’ve ever had food poisoning, you’ll know it isn’t a blessing.
It’s crazy! It turns everything upside down.
It’s not the mega-rich flying first-class to the Maldives who are having the posh holiday, it’s the little people on a day trip Great Yarmouth? (Don’t get me wrong, I love Great Yarmouth, but if I had the choice …)
It’s not the powerful who are in control, it’s the zero-hours, minimum-wage contract workers? Really?
Familiarity has soothed our sense of the ridiculous and now it sounds twee and comforting. But it shouldn’t. Look at the bit just above Micah 6:8. Micah asks how he should properly worship God. By bringing barrowloads of animal sacrifices? Tankerfuls of oil? Even his firstborn son?
Don’t worry, he wasn’t meaning that last bit literally. Or any of it. It’s a joke. No one could really bring that much to the temple as an offering. Today we’d say, “Would God be impressed if I put a million pounds in the offertory plate?” Or, “Would he be bothered if I went to church fifty times a week?”
The answer of course, is ‘no’. Of course, it’s good to give [time/money/talents] to God’s work and to meet with fellow believers, but not as a means of gaining any favour with God. None of the stuff we do is a means of gaining favour with God, however good a thing it is to do. Jesus pointed this out when he noticed a rich man and a poor widow making a their donations, and when he saw a Pharisee praying on the street corner, and agian when he called the religious elite blind guides, whitewashed tombs, a bunch of snakes, and when … you get the picture.
I spend a lot of my time doing ‘Christian’ stuff – writing Christian resources, preparing for Christian events, reading Christian literature, studying Christian subjects – and none of that gets me one single step closer to the throne in heaven. I kinda hope it’s useful in the kingdom, but it does not buy me any heavenly credits.
God is not impressed by the size of the offering, but by the spirit in which it is made. Am I out of sorts with a brother or sister? I need to set that right and then make my offering. (Matt 5:23-4). Am I Perhaps I need to get Micah 6:8 tattooed backwards on my forehead, so that I see it every time I look in the mirror.
Or see if they make babygrows in my size.
Micah 6:1-8 The Message
Listen now, listen to God:
“Take your stand in court.
If you have a complaint, tell the mountains;
make your case to the hills.
And now, Mountains, hear God’s case;
listen, Jury Earth—
For I am bringing charges against my people.
I am building a case against Israel.
“Dear people, how have I done you wrong?
Have I burdened you, worn you out? Answer!
I delivered you from a bad life in Egypt;
I paid a good price to get you out of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you—
and Aaron and Miriam to boot!
Remember what Balak king of Moab tried to pull,
and how Balaam son of Beor turned the tables on him.
Remember all those stories about Shittim and Gilgal.
Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.”
How can I stand up before God
and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child,
my precious baby, to cancel my sin?
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.
Matthew 5:1-12 The Message
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
Sermon on the Mount scene, Monty Python, Life of Brian, 1979, http://www.krug.org/scripts/brian.html