6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
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.
The author is rhetorically contending with the question – “What exactly constitutes a good and moral life in the eyes of God?” What about the eyes of our community? Or if we are of renown, the view of history? Micah’s question is: What does a good life look like?
I have known a couple of people through my life who appeared to work out from the very earliest age something it can take seekers of wisdom a lifetime – that it doesn’t matter what riches you have, or how much you place on the sacrificial altar. It doesn’t matter how ‘flash’ one is. These rare and lovely souls appear to everyone who meets them, religious or not, to land instinctively on the right track – to care about justice, love mercy, and to walk through life with great humility.
They seemed born with a capacity to not get sucked in to the world’s games of competitive winners and losers. Lives of prioritising character before other things and appear to be completely happy with their lot. Who seem to intuitively know where contentment could be found. To be patient, kind, do not envy, are not boastful. Guided by hearts that overflow with love. A deep authenticity, and appreciation for the people and things encountered on life’s journey. The sense of being completely at ease with themselves has a magnetic effect on everyone who comes into their orbit, indeed people are drawn into their orbit! They being at ease with themselves, are at peace with the world and so the world around them responds accordingly. It is a beautiful thing to see and I count myself as privileged to have known even one such person.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were all a little more Micah in our relationship with our God, ourselves, and with the world around us? Making the spaces and the faces around us more radiant than before we arrived. It is a bar so high that it is a rare thing indeed. Justice for many of us has ‘me’ at the centre making it known that ‘I’ am the victim here. Many of us desire more mercy, especially for ourselves or our in-group preferences but can be so woefully blind to the need for mercy elsewhere. And in our lack of humility we struggle with the self-awareness required for contrition and repentance. Without humility we cannot see the need for justice, or mercy. Without it we only see ourselves.
The change in focus and inner orientation that accompanies Christian conversion also requires practice and discipline before fruitful Micah style living can become the default setting. We struggle to fight the cult of self, the I-me-my tendency. For the blessed few, holiness is a natural orientation however for most, the vast majority, we get by with orthodox proclamation, established theological reasoning, and a smattering of Christianese. A good spiritual elder will discern the difference and we too are always called to discern the spirits. No more so for me than now.
Proclaiming Christ as our ‘sure foundation’ is well and good, but what are the stones that we each are laying on top? Is our contribution as good and true as it ought to be? Are we doing the necessary inner work, the process of sanctification, of being set apart for a special use and purpose, and formation to ensure we are ‘walking in our calling’?
We spiritualise a great deal when it suits us but what inner work, real sacrificial handing over, real inspection of our shadows and motivations, are we doing in our roads of discipleship? Inner work which will have us living better within our own selves and in turn the world around us, recognising the humility of Christ as it births us anew with each step of surrender along the narrow way.
The world responds instinctively to those souls who ring true. The language of faith takes us so far, the language of authenticity is heard at the level of the intuition and is rarely mis-heard and cannot be faked. The inner work of discipleship and refinement will yield fruit that can change the world. The invitation of the cross is also the invitation to a journey that few seldom consciously take up.
Is the Lord pleased with great riches poured on the altars? The sacrifice of that which is most precious to us, even our children? Not really it seems. What is required of us all, is to love justice, be merciful, and to walk with humility with our God.