God does not fume or fuss, but there is grief in God’s voice: “Dear people, how have I done you wrong? Have I burdened you, worn you out?”
January 29, 2023
Dr. Todd R. Wright Most of us are familiar with the end of this passage from Micah: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In fact, because it is so familiar, we leap to whisper it along with the reader, but we forget what goes before it. And because we forget what proceeds it, we often hear it as advice, as a command, as instructions for how to please God. We miss what goes before and so we misunderstand. So what goes before?
Well, that’s the strange part. Court is convened and Israel is invited to plead their case. It reminds me of the Kangaroo Courts that used to add both justice and a little laughter to Major League baseball. One sportswriter explains that they “existed as a means for teams to self-discipline themselves instead of having or waiting for front-office intervention, which rarely came. Players [could be] found guilty for any number of infractions [including]: Getting thrown out at third base trying to stretch a double into a triple with nobody out. Failure to move up a runner on second with no outs. Failure to lay down a successful sacrifice bunt. Missing the cut-off man. Missing a sign [from one of the coaches]. Failure to make contact, with a runner in scoring position. Not running out what should have been an infield hit. But also “being late for a game or practice, wearing [an ugly suit], or having a messy locker.” The fines collected were often donated to charity, but had to be paid before the next game. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson once appeared as the judge wearing a new white floppy mop on his head, as if he was a solemn English judge – symbolic of the serious and silly situation. I mention this tradition from America’s pastime, because the scene in Micah is just as bizarre. Israel must plead its case … before the mountains! That’s right, the mountains! Now we know mountains. We are surrounded by mountains. Some ski them; a few climb them; we all live in their brawny embrace. But while the Kanawha County courthouse was built from their substance and sits in their shadow, the mountains are not where we seek justice. And yet, in Micah, they are cast in the role of jury – solemn, stone-faced, unmovable, asked to consider a dispute God has with the people. They are called to this role because they can bear witness to when God made the covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai.
So Micah describes this tense situation – Israel has broken the covenant (again), and who knows what God will do. God does not fume or fuss, but there is grief in God’s voice: “Dear people, how have I done you wrong? Have I burdened you, worn you out?” And then God begins to list all that he has done for them: “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 [finally crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, from] Shittim [to] Gilgal? They should be grateful for what God’s done on their behalf; they should be ashamed of what they have done; they should plea for mercy. Instead, with stiff-necked bravado, Israel responds: “So, what do you want, God? Bowing and scraping? Burnt offerings? Thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? Maybe you want our firstborn – not just figuratively, but literally, like Isaac? Would that satisfy you?
They have missed the point. They act as if God can be bribed, as if this can be settled as easily as paying a speeding ticket, as if there is no need to repent and change their ways. It is a wonder that the mountains do not tremble at their audacity! But they have missed the point in another way – they act as if God has not already redeemed them; as if God’s claim on them can expire; as if God’s love for them is not unconditional! So when God speaks through the prophet about doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with God, they hear it as a counter offer to the thousand rams and 10,000 rivers of oil. Not that, but this! But God is not negotiating a plea deal. What God is saying is: If you remembered my freeing you from Egypt, and leading you through the wilderness, and protecting you from the schemes of enemies, all the way to the Promised Land, then you would want to live this way in response!
So while you may listen to this passage and resolve to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” please understand that God loved you before you heard these words; before you took a breath; before you did anything worthwhile … and after you failed miserably. That’s grace! Now, how are you going to live in response to that reality? Amen.
 By Bear and Birch Designs  From “Kangaroo Courts : On why MLB Teams need to bring them back” by Steve Contursi, 4/30/21  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo_court  See https://tht.fangraphs.com/the-kangaroo-court-and-frank-robinson/#:~:text=In%20regular%20life%2C%20there%20are,has%20to%20pay%20the%20fine  From Eugene Peterson’s translation of the passage in The Message