Monday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Micah 6:1-4,6-8

We have a rather unusual reading today but one that is full of love and tenderness. The scene is that of a courtroom and of people on trial. The Lord lodges a legal complaint against Judah. Those on trial are God’s people and he is their judge. The witnesses are the surrounding mountains and hills.

There are three distinct parts:

1. The evidence against God’s people. The Lord summons the people to listen to his accusation and to prepare their defence against the charges that follow. The Lord speaks poignantly in reminding the people of his gracious acts in their behalf.

2. Their response in which they ask what compensation they need to pay for their sins.

3. God, through the mouth of his prophet, tells them what he expects.

Let’s explore each of these:

1. The people are called on to stand up and face their judge and the mountains and hills are told to listen as witnesses to the judge’s accusations against his people in Judah. In both the Hebrew and Christian Testaments, mountains are holy places where God likes to commune with his people e.g. Sinai, Nebo, Zion, Carmel as well as the mountains of the Sermon on the Mount and the transfiguration of Jesus on Tabor. They are the impassive, unchanging witnesses through time of the great covenants God made with his people.

The evidence against the people is all the wrongs they have done and their total ingratitude for all that God has done for them. In the verses immediately following today’s reading, some of these wrongs are listed. They include:

– Rich men full of violence
– People speaking falsehoods
– False weights and measures designed to cheat buyers
– Imitating the semi-paganism of the Northern Kingdom with its corrupt worship and social injustice.

“My people, what have I done to you?” cries Yahweh, that they should respond to his love in this way. And he reminds them of how he rescued them from the slavery of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, Aaron and Miriam and brought them to the Promised Land.

The words here form the basis for the lamentations (the Improperia) used in the Good Friday liturgy to call us to repentance for our sinful ingratitude to God’s love in our lives. “My people, what have I done to you, how have I been a burden to you?” asks the Lord. The plea is softened by the address “My people”, expressing sorrow rather than anger.

2. The people respond by asking what they should do to make recompense. What gifts should they bring into God’s presence to appease him? They suggest both lawful and forbidden sacrifices. Does Yahweh God want holocausts of young calves? Does he want offerings of thousands of rams and torrents of oil? Does he want them to give up their first-born sons as penitential compensation for their sins and offences? (Yahweh would never demand human sacrifice as some of the other religions did. It shows how religiously confused the people are.)

3. God, through his prophet, rejects all of these. He does not want to be appeased; he does not need to be appeased. He is above all that. What he does want, what gives him the greatest happiness is to see a deep inner conversion on the part of his people, a radical changing of their ways. This will make him happy because therein lies their own happiness too. He wants a religion of merely external ritual to be replaced with a religion of the spirit, as expressed in the prophets – justice (Amos), love (Hosea), humility before God (Isaiah).

So the reading ends with one of the most lovely sentences in the whole of the Bible, one which perhaps we have heard quoted but never knew where it came from.

This is what the Lord asks of you:
only this, to act justly,
to love tenderly,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Everything is contained there. It covers both the teaching of the Old and the New Testaments on how we should behave. If we can live like this, our lives will be perfect:

– to treat others with justice, in deep respect to give to each one what is their right and their due,
– to be filled with love: both agape and philia, and
– to be deeply united in prayer with our God.

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