Here Micah consoles the people with God’s mercy (Mi 7:14-15, 18-20). God’s wrath will not last forever. Micah is best known for saying that we are “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.” This is the Lenten sacrifice that God wants of us. Our upbringing so imbued us with the practice of giving up things for Lent that we often fail to realize that God wants us to adopt appropriate attitudes and to act accordingly.
In my opinion, doing justice—dismantling structures of injustice—can be much more difficult than giving up text messaging (that latest fad give up). To love mercy—practicing loving kindness—with the jerk neighbor, colleague, or staff member can be much more difficult than giving up candy or Budweiser. Walking humbly before God—practicing mindfulness/contemplation in our daily lives—can be much more difficult than not eating meat on Friday. Humility is not about being a door mat. Rather it is about knowing that God is God. God loves us. It is about confronting evil, injustice and mismanagement. We confront to make friends not enemies if the other party will allow us.
Fish swim in water. We swim in the love of God. He loves us into life so we can love others into life. This requires justice, loving kindness, and humility. Remember what the Psalmist says—God “is kind and merciful.”
Luke’s account of the prodigal son (LK 15:1-3, 11-32) is a beautiful story of God’s mercy and compassion. It picks up where Micah left off. Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son (http://www.abcgallery.com/R/rembrandt/rembrandt139.html) is one famous artistic rendition of the event. Henri Nouwen’s book on the Prodigal Son brings the story to life.
The son did more than leave the family with his share of the inheritance because by so doing he took away from resources to care for the father in his old age. This was a dastardly deed given Jewish family structures and expectations at the time. He spent “his inheritance in a life of dissipation” which the jealous older brother interpreted as cavorting with prostitutes.
Jesus is here confronting the codes and religious rules of the Pharisees and scribes (these people were probably the original control freaks). He eats with tax collectors and sinners because he has come to show us the face of a compassionate, loving, merciful God. Jesus practices open table fellowship. As Bryan Massingale says, “Jesus ate with everybody.”
The tribal vengeful male God is on his death bed. Jesus is introducing a new way of seeing God—a compassionate God who is neither male (patriarchal tribal god) nor female. God is beyond all characterizations.
The father, who has been hurt so deeply by the son’s action, looks out and sees his wayward son at a distance. He must have been a sight. He was a bag of bones. His eyes were sunken and his cheeks hallowed from hunger. He smelled like the pig pen he had worked in. Nevertheless, the father runs to meet him. He hugs and kisses him. He throws a banquet. Note that he does not lock the door, pull down the shades, and retreat to his bedroom so he can make the son crawl on his knees to earn his love.
The older brother is another story. He is so jealous of the banquet the father is throwing that he refuses to attend. He has been faithful and dutiful and now the wastrel is enjoying a banquet. Like the Pharisees and scribes, who had been faithful to their version of God’s law, he did not want to dine with sinners. He was too good, too pure to associate with the likes of his brother.
Do we act justly or do we act in such a way that we refuse to welcome “sinners” to our communal tables? Do we practice loving kindness toward others regardless of race, sex, creed, color, national origin, or sexual orientation? Do we humbly recognize that God love every person regardless of who they are or what they have done?
Would Jesus deny a place at the banquet to a legislator who voted for a bill granting the right to abortion because she felt that, in certain cases, like rape and incest, the higher good is being served? We need to be wary of excluding people from the table. Matters are not usually black and white. It is the shades of gray that cause great moral anguish. Last year, a pastor in Missouri was laicized, according to reports, because he was ministering to a diverse community. The bishop is a Florida diocese declared that every person who attended the ordination of women priests was excommunicated—not allowed to come to the table. Do we welcome gays and lesbians to our communal tables? Is it possible that our rejection of them is based on faulty scientific thinking and faulty interpretation of the scriptures?
We need to be aware that God may be running out to greet and welcome people whom we would label as sinners. I believe Jesus would today be going around and inviting women priests and gays and lesbians to come to the table with him. We may be closing doors while God is running around inviting “sinners” to the communal table.