“Justice, Kindness, and Humility”

Epiphany 4

January 29, 2017


Text:  Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; Matthew 5:1-12


    The final verse of today’s reading from the book of the prophet Micah is one of the most familiar scriptures of all:  “God has shown 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 before your God.”  This sounds so simple.  Yet we live in a world where justice, kindness, and humility often seem to be in short supply, and where even those who claim allegiance to God often behave in unjust, unkind, and arrogant ways.  So it would seem that a lot of people are missing the point.  

    Do justice, love kindness, and live humbly before God.  Let’s explore what this means.

    Do justice.  Justice.  We want life to be fair.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to get upset if I believe others are not treating me fairly.  Justice is something I want for myself.  

    In our world, the word “justice” is also often used in the punitive sense.  We say we want “justice” when we mean to say that we want to be sure those who do us wrong are appropriately punished for their wrongdoing.  And most people seem to want that punishment to be as harsh as possible.

    The original intent of punishment is correction.  We often refer to the prison system as the “correctional system” and prisons as “reformatories” because if the legal system is doing its work well, the people who come under its jurisdiction learn how to correct their behavior and reform their lives so they can return to society as productive, law-abiding citizens.   Unfortunately, in many cases the reality is that punishment is used primarily to exact revenge against perpetrators.  Execution is an act of revenge.  It is the endgame of the old “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle--a principle which Jesus rejected.  Imprisoning an offender without trying to rehabilitate that person only ends up producing a more vengeful, hardened criminal who will likely offend again.  

    But the prophet Micah tells us God wants us to DO justice.  This tells me we are to be just in our dealings with others.  It’s not about whether I get treated fairly--it’s about making sure others are treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, even when we don’t think they deserve it.  

    If we truly do justice, we will also love kindness.  We will seek to treat others with mercy and compassion.  Mercy is treating someone well even though we don’t think they deserve it.  Compassion is showing loving care to others in their suffering and hurt.  

    Doing justice and regarding others with compassion requires humility.  The word “humility” shares roots and origin with the word “human”, and also the word “humus”, which means “soil”.  To be humble is to remember we are human, children of earth, created by God from dust, from dirt.  It means we are not God.  We are God’s children only because God has adopted us as his children.   We don’t get to call the shots.  It’s not all about us.  Life is about what God wants for this world, and our place is to live in a way that helps accomplish what God wants.  God wants us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God.  

It is nigh impossible to genuinely care about the wellbeing of others if one is arrogant and interested primarily in how what happens in life will benefit oneself.  There is a huge difference between appropriate care for oneself and self-centeredness.  Appropriate care for oneself allows one to do a better job of loving and caring for others.  Self-centeredness seeks gain for oneself above all other things, even if others are hurt in the process.  

Today’s psalm, Psalm 15, describes people who are worthy to live in God’s presence:  “The person who lives free of blame, does what is right, and speaks the truth sincerely; who does no damage with their talk, does no harm to a friend, doesn’t insult a neighbor; someone who despises those who act wickedly, but who honors those who honor the Lord; someone who keeps their promise even when it hurts; someone who doesn’t lend money with interest, who won’t accept a bribe against any innocent person.”  This is a description of a person who does justice, loves kindness, and walks humbly with God.  All of this is about how we treat others, making sure they are treated right even at our own expense.  

    Our Gospel lesson today is the Beatitudes, the opening of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Strangely, the people Jesus lists here as blessed are people who we generally don’t think of in that way.  People who are hopeless, grieving, humble.  People who seek to do what is right, kind, just, and peaceable.  People who are mistreated for being faithful.  These, too, are people who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  These are the people Jesus pronounced happy and recipients of God’s blessing.  

    But the world we live in thinks differently than this about what it means to be happy and blessed.  Many people think happiness means an easy life, prosperity, power, comfort, good health, good fortune, and favorable life circumstances. Sometimes we even describe ourselves as “blessed” at such times.  We generally do not look upon sadness and trouble as blessings.  We do not see ourselves as blessed when we catch all sorts of flak for doing the right thing.  But God does.  Our true blessedness and happiness is found when we do what God wants us to do:  do justice, love kindness, and live humbly before God.  

    Now what I am about to say may get me in a little trouble.  But I believe the question does need to be asked about the executive orders issued by the new administration in the last few days:  Do these orders promote doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God?

    I know some will say that clergy or the church in general should not be talking about these things.  But that is not a biblical stance. I strongly encourage you, when you get home, to get out your Bibles and read the whole book of the Micah.  (It’s a short book.)  When you read it, what you will find is that the prophet Micah was sharply critical of the government of ancient Israel, and even proclaimed that it was doomed before God if they didn’t straighten up.

    So I ask the question again:  Do these executive orders meet the test of “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God”?  Many Christian leaders believe they do not.  Many people also believe they are either in violation of existing federal law or of American tradition.  I will leave you to make up your own minds on this matter, but I also urge you to test all that is done by our leaders in the light of what God expects of us as people belonging to him and as human beings.

Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.  In our community and in our world, let us be faithful in doing so.  Amen.

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