There is a story of a man who had a case before the Court, but when the Judge was ready to deliver his verdict, the man was not present. As it happened, he won his case, and his lawyer sent him a message: “Justice has been served”! The man replied immediately: “Appeal at once”! That would have to make you wonder! But seriously, when we read Micah, “do” seems a strange word to link with “justice”.
Micah was one of the prophets of the 8th century BCE, alongside Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. His words were addressed initially to crowds in Jerusalem, but as one commentator points out, the fact that he grew up in a small village “may have given him extra sensitivity for the sufferings of the poor and the powerless, whom he champions in his preaching”. Our context today is of course different, but the underlying call of Micah is essentially timeless. In other words, “do” is a verb, and as such, it involves all of us. It is not something that we just wait to happen.
There are several necessary words of caution. Whether we talk about seeking justice, or doing justice, there may be a perception that this is self-seeking. True, there may be something in it for us; but the Biblical emphasis is always on the other rather than the self. In terms of the justice Micah is talking about, we might also beware the tendency to think of it simply within a legalistic frame of reference – and that is not helpful! An Australian Micah might even talk about “a fair go”! In any event, we need to be talking about what God requires of us. This involves the integrity of our faith and our worship.
What issues might a 21st century Micah address in Australia today? Would it be the situation faced by many of our First Peoples, or refugees? Might it be greed, economic imbalance, or wrong priorities, or something else again? Whatever it is, there is something here that we are called to consider carefully. Many of us will struggle with the issues, and we may not agree. But the faith of the prophets, the faith of Jesus, and the faith to which we are called, is not overly-privatised but is one that engages significant social justice issues courageously.
Beware the superficial society – and beware the church of the superficial society! That is what Isaiah tells us. In words reminiscent of his 8th century BCE contemporaries, Isaiah says: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”. It is a word addressed not merely to individual piety, but to the heart and spirit of a people. Beware the superficial society. In other words, do justice!
Clive W Ayre