Saturday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Micah 2:1-5

Today we have the first of three readings from the prophet Micah. Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, but we know nothing of his life except that he came from an obscure village in the foothills of Judah.  Like the other prophets, he attacked those who exploited the poor, merchants who cheated, corrupt judges, priests and prophets.  The cities of Jerusalem and Samaria were particular targets.

The verses we read today are directed mainly against rich landowners who are oppressing the poor.  According to the prophet, they lie in bed wondering what their next money-making move will be. Micah, however, describes their plans as plotting evil and planning mischief, as those:

…who devise wickedness
and evil deeds on their beds!

As soon as dawn breaks, they get up to put their plots into action.  The rich, exploiting classes continue to get rich at the expense of the poor because they control the power structures of their society:

They covet fields and seize them,
houses and take them away…

Covetousness alone was a violation of the 10th Commandment.  Land monopoly, also denounced by Isaiah, was a chronic vice in Judah.  To protect the poor against it, a man’s inheritance, his ancestral property, was supposed to be inviolate.  According to the Law, land was the permanent possession of a family.  But the wealthy, in their greed, were enslaving poor landowners for their debts and thus taking over the land in payment. (We saw something of this when Queen Jezebel engineered the death of Naboth as a way by which the king, her husband, could have the vineyard he coveted; see the reading for Monday of Week 11 of Ordinary Time.) And then they would take over the house as well, presumably as collateral for a debt that had not been repaid.  In this way, the already rich landowners could increase their ownings with the least outlay (and the greatest injustice).  It all sounds so contemporary!

But the prophet warns that they are not going to get away with their exploitation of the poor and weak for long:

Now, I am devising against this family an evil
from which you cannot remove your necks

Little do they know that the invader is about to strike and carry off everyone, both rich and poor, into bitter exile:

On that day [the rich] shall take up a taunt song against you
and wail with bitter lamentation
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
the Lord alters the inheritance of my people;
how he removes it from me
Among our captors he parcels out our fields.”

Micah say that oppressing classes, the monopolists, will be excluded from the division of the land in the restored kingdom:

Therefore you will have no one in the Lord’s assembly
to allot you a piece of land.

They will be cut off from all the promises of the covenant people. “To allot you a piece of land” is an allusion to the initial distribution of the land of Palestine among the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land.  The appropriate punishment of those greedy for land will be loss of their land to their enemies, a loss that will be irrevocable.

But in “the Lord’s assembly”, in the Kingdom that is to come – that Kingdom of justice and peace – there will be a true sharing out in which all will get their due share.  However, there will be no share for those who greedily tried to monopolise all material wealth into their own hands and brought suffering on the poor and needy.

Our societies today are no strangers to the exploitation of the poor by the already rich.  It can be one individual against another, one society against another, one nation against another, or even one continent against another.  Sometimes, such exploitation may even be according to the law and be defended in court, but the injustice remains.  In spite of unprecedented prosperity, we live in a world of scandalous inequality.  Let us always work to change it.

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