No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 (NLT)
This text from Micah is among the most recognizable from among the prophets, perhaps because it does such a succinct job of telling us what God expects from us. Its helpful to read the context and to be reminded that our offerings are never a substitute for giving of ourselves. Other translations, such as the New International Version will read that “what is right” is about justice translating the Hebrew word mishpat to act justly. Several translations use the word mercy for the Hebrew word checed which is also kindness. To walk humbly, from the Hebrew word tsana` means to walk in humility.
As I break this down to actionable, tangible things that we are called to do I begin with that it might mean to act justly? The Psalms tell of God’s justice, peace and righteousness? The Hebrew word mishpat shows up a lot in the Psalms and elsewhere in scripture. When we cry out for justice what do we have in mind? The Micah text combines attitude and action into phrases. We are to do justice or to act justly. This requires first an attitude of justice. This text is not calling for a one-time act. Rather, this text calls us to a way of being. We were created to be just. Unfortunately, human weakness causes us to put our own needs and wants ahead of the sacrifice needed for justice.
I have a favorite illustration that helps me when I think about the difference between justice and mercy, which the Micah text also calls us to be. Mercy can be thought of as saving people from drowning. Pulling folks out of the river, so to speak. This is indeed an act of kindness. An act of compassion. Acts of justice is about those actions needed to prevent people from being thrown into the river. Sometimes justice can be thought of as working on root causes rather than treating symptoms. Prevention as opposed to emergency relief. Both are needed. There is a pearl of wisdom that says it can be hard to work on fire prevention in a building that is already burning.
We are to love mercy according to the Micah text. This phrase sounds almost passive. So many things we love are things that we desire but our not good for us. We may love exercise but if we sit on the couch watching TV, perhaps our reality is that we love TV more than exercise. A well-worn commercial phrase from the company Nike is “Just to do it.” This phrase suggests that sometimes we need to stop hoping that we will do that which we need to do and just do it.
We need to love mercy in both attitude and action. When we see someone drowning we need to pull them out of harm’s way. When we see people, systems and practices that put persons in harms way we need to take action. It is helpful to talk about humility but it is more helpful to demonstrate humility in our actions. God calls us to walk in the way of our Lord, Jesus Christ. To be the person God created us to be.