From a young age we’re told the requirements. Homework that’s required at school. An entrance exam required for that job you want. Or the wedding vows, required to prove your commitment.
For Micah the prophet, life in the community of God required something. It wasn’t sacrifices and offerings, right doctrine and theology. It was much more real to the earth than that.
8 He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
Life in community – with each other, under God – requires more than just saying and believing the right things. It’s more than a weekly check or a monthly service. It goes to the core of who we are and how we treat each other.
Theologian and Yale professor Nicholas Wolterstroff wrote: “The fundamental principle of biblical justice is that you should never treat a human being as if they had less worth than they have.” Wrapped up in what’s required of God’s community is an accurate sense of worth.
Justice is treating everyone according to the worth they have. Not the worth you assign to them, or the worth you think the world should level at them. But the worth that God has bestowed on them.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” reads the Declaration of Independence. “That all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” That endowment is not just legal standing in the world. It’s our worth.
Just as Adam was formed from the dirt of the ground and bestowed with the breath of our creator, so has every human being been given the life-breath of God. And through that breath comes the image of God. We all bear it – every last one of us.
The image of God makes you worthy. Not our accomplishments or deeds. Not our failures or triumphs. We are worthy because we are created in God’s image. Everyone with breath in their lungs is worthy – whether a hater or a lover, a mom or dad or uncle, a villain or hero or prisoner. But everyday people are robbed of their worth. Don’t be a thief!
Who around you is being robbed of their worth? Or better yet, who are you guilty of robbing?
If justice is refusing to rob others of their worth, mercy is showing grace to those who have robbed you of yours.
In this world, you will be wronged. Bad things will happen to you. But more distressing, people will do bad things to you. Sometimes without thinking. Sometimes with malicious intent. Mercy cancels out the debt that is created when bad happens to us.
We like mercy a lot, especially when we’re on the receiving end of it. But when it comes to dispensing it, we’re okay with small little doses. We handle grace with an eyedropper.
But mercy is best loved when it is freely and judiciously given. Mercy’s biggest lovers know how to spread grace around with large handfuls. And their tastes aren’t overly discriminant when it comes to who gets it. Jesus went as far as to say our enemies should be on the other side of that fistful of mercy we’re hurling.
Humility is just understanding your own worth. C. S. Lewis famously said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” To walk humbly takes knowing who you really are.
Pride has two sides – a dark side and a right side. The dark side wants to inflate and exaggerate. The right side of pride is married to humility.
Our humility will also be evaluated by how we see others. If we have a positive and accurate view of our self-worth, we reflect that to others. Those who have a right sense of pride are rarely jealous or envious, degrading or disrespectful. Humility will lead to honor and respect, grace and dignity, especially in the presence of those who disagree with you and seek to dishonor you.
On a day like today – I wrote this on Martin Luther King Day, 2017 – these requirements are so very important. This verse is required reading. But we can’t leave it at that. Required reading must become required thinking, required living, required action, and required treatment. We must make these principles part of our personal life, and then let that justice flow like a river from within us to every person we encounter.
That’s what living in the real community of God is all about.