Ritual is important in the Hebrew Scriptures, too. It's what protects God's chosen people from having their faces melted like a bunch of Nazis when they approach the glory of the presence of God (not the actual presence... again, face melty). Or like poor Nadab and Abihu, who tried to make up their own ritual and paid the ultimate price for it. So the questions we find in Micah 6 aren't actually all that strange:
‘With what shall I come before the Lord,Ok, so the questions get a little over the top—maybe even a little whiney! But not so strange. After all, nobody wants their face melted when they approach their God, right? Ritual is important.
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
So Micah's response is actually kind of surprising:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;So... all this important, please-don't-melt-my-face ritual... isn't important? Could it really be as simple as do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God?
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The thing is... simple isn't necessarily easy. Ritual is easy, but at best it leads you to an understanding of the simple truths that ritual points to: Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly before your God. If you take these truths seriously, it upends the world every time.
Jesus, of course, was absolutely brilliant at turning the world upside down. I don't just mean a little bit, either. I'm talking about full on, David-Bowie-stole-your-brother-eating-the-Red-Pill upside down. Despite everything we've been taught by the world and everything our own experiences have led us to believe, Jesus tells us that the blessed—that the winners at life—are actually the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted—and reviled. Jesus looks at a world that says that those strong enough be winners are blessed and turns it upside down.
Or, actually, Jesus points out that the world is already upside down and we just haven't noticed yet. Wake up, Neo...
And the really frustrating thing is that, for all the progress we've made in the two-thousand-some-odd years since then, we still live in an upside down world. So what's to be done about it? Nothing, except do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God...
Be good to each other,
The scripture lessons for January 19th—The Second Sunday after Epiphany Year A—are:
Micah 6:1-8—Psalm 15—1 Corinthians 1:18-31—Matthew 5:1-12