“Do Justice,” a holiday calling from Micah

Over the past few years, I have typically shared a family recipe as part of my holiday blog essay. If you dig around in the December posts over the past five years (it’s hard to imagine that the blog is now more than five years old with over 120 posted essays, more than 30,000 page views, from over 25 countries!) you will find recipes for “Kuni’s Chocolate Cake,” and “MaMa’s Giblet gravy” to name just two. Well this year I will depart from that historic culinary tradition to share some thoughts on the weightier topic of “Justice,” a principal in short supply in our country and our world this holiday season.

Since I was a boy, I have been struck by a single passage from the Old Testament. Micah was a “prophet” who lived in the early part of the 8th century B.C. in a village 20+/- miles outside of Jerusalem. While a very small book of the bible (Micah is considered as one of the 12 “lesser prophets” of the Old Testament) I have continually found my way back to this one specific passage:

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

He has told 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 with your God

This combination of “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your god” has struck a deep cord since I was young. I have seen this passage quoted on the front of Synagogues and Churches, in a wide range of texts and sermons, and while this passage is over 2700 years old, it seems a deeply important and a very current admonition for our society today!

Over the years, I have focused on the specific idea of “walk humbly with your god.” In my experience, the space of faith/religion/belief seems often lacking in this concept of “humility” broadly, and the concept of walking “humbly with your God” is applicable to so many faith traditions across the world. Over the past few weeks and months, while this idea still rings true to me deeply, my attention has turned to an earlier portion of the verse, that being the idea of “do justice.”

Clearly we are all living in a time when “justice” seems to be lacking in every corner. Turn your attention to Ferguson or Staten Island, Hong Kong or Kobani, to NW Pakistan or NE Nigeria, to countries, cities and villages all over our world and it seems unarguable that we are living in a time that lacks of justice broadly. Whether centered on race, economic, religious, sex , sexual orientation, or other sources of injustice, our worldwide community struggles with justice broadly, and seems to be making little or no headway or progress toward a more just tomorrow.

As I reconsidered Micah’s passage this holiday season, the call to “do justice” took on a singular prominence. In a moment of research that would have made my old testament professor (from New College, the divinity school at Edinburgh University where I spent some time during my undergraduate days) smile, I dug around through a variety of translations to understand this specific portion of the verse more deeply. While clearly not exhaustive, I looked into nine English translations of Micah 6:8 with the following results:

“Do Justice:” (NRSV, RSV,ESV,NAS)
“Do Justly:” (KJV,NKJV)
“Act Justly:” (NIV,WEB,CJB)

While the specific words do change slightly, one idea rings true; this call to “justice” is an active one, pushing all of us to “do” or “act” toward “justice!” Once again it is not enough to be satisfied with thoughts, beliefs or good intentions, we must take action!

Like many reading this essay, it often seems that this call to “do justice” is meant for more significant players on the world stage. What should our president or congress do? What is the UN doing? Etc. I am convinced that all of us can and need to take action in our sometimes “small” everyday lives, communities and neighborhoods. Injustice is broad and pervasive and we can only make progress if we all find ways to “do justice” where we live every day. In my neighborhood, just a few miles east of downtown Atlanta, there is tremendous wealth and poverty living side by side. Beside the large, beautiful historic homes are individuals and families living in the streets, the alleys and the bushes. My family and I are involved in a small religious community in our neighborhood where one Sunday a month we make sandwiches for a neighborhood shelter and one Wednesday night a month we gather and share a dinner with ALL in our neighborhood… whether coming from the street or the executive suite, all gather and share a common meal in a warm, safe, welcoming space.

Now will these actions eradicate the economic “injustice” in our neighborhood? Of course not! But rather than throwing our hands in the air, thinking that the problems are too big or maybe someone else’s responsibility, it is clearly the right move for us to take action where we can. Those sandwiches or that Wednesday night meal do make a difference, and while maybe small, they are actions working to make a difference in people’s lives. Injustice is not somewhere else or someone else’s problem. Remember the quote from Dr. King where he reminds us that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”! As you enter into this holiday season, look for ways in your towns, your neighborhoods, your communities to follow Micah’s call, to look for ways big or small, to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”