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Acting Justly

Dec 07, 2016

Passage: Micah 6:8

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Advent, Wednesday


Text: “He has told you, O man, 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?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. Mishpat: the Hebrew word for “Justice.” This is the word used here at Micah 6:8. It is “strict equity.” That is, the concept is different from our modern-day concept of justice bound to our judicial system. Though Scripture broadly includes the ideas of retribution and punishment, that is not the sense of the word here in Micah 6:8. Strict equity leads us to step back and be mindful of what it means to be one person among all other people. We are a common humanity.

As a result we are astoundingly equal to all other people in the sense that all of us share a common origin. Our first parents are the same and we – in the collective sense – were all first created in the image of God; all of us have likewise suffered the effects of the fall into sin; all of us are born with a sinful nature; all of us had Christ sent to save us from sin and death; Christ shed His blood for us all; God loves all and sends the sun and the rain to sustain all. We are in effect all in the same boat. Even without the finer distinction of all with faith in the LORD also being brothers and sisters in Christ, we are at the very least always brothers and sisters with all of humanity in a first-article-creation sense; AND the LORD desires we practice “justice” -- mishpat – for all.

Theodore of Mopsuestia helps us understand what such justice looks like: “Forget about burnt offerings…practice what God ordered you…[t]o deliver fair judgement and decision in all cases where you have to choose better from worse, to continue giving evidence of all possible love and fellow-feeling to your neighbor, and be ready to put into practice what is pleasing to God in every way.” (Alberto Ferreiro, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, Old Testament XIV, The Twelve Prophets, 171)

Such justice/mishpat is the habit of doing the right thing towards your fellow human being. If God sends the sun and the rain upon the good and the evil, then practice the same principle. That is, treat people fairly. Be even, be equal. If you would give food to a good friend, give food to the total stranger. Do not be prejudicial. Be mindful of how you are the same and if God gives to you, then you should give. It’s that simple. Be kind, be helpful, be a servant to all people. Period. But practice such justice/mishpat especially for those in exceptional need. Sacred Scripture teaches that God’s people are not to deny such justice to the poor (Exodus 23:6); and doing true justice includes serving aliens, orphans, and widows (Deuteronomy 24:17-18); and Scripture teaches that God Himself works righteousness and justice for the oppressed. And you dear Christian are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1).

This is justice/mishpat, but in Micah’s day, God’s people were failing miserably. The prophet comes to reveal God’s true life to them and it is a life only He can provide. We need this gift from God, because we too fail miserably at justice/mishpat. I totally and completely blew it a couple of weeks ago (and of course I’ve blown it many times since), but two weeks ago two women came to my door. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was busy and when the door-bell rang, I thought it was someone else. I was in one of those mindsets of knowing I had 15 things to do in a matter of a few hours and I was eager to stick to my focus and my list. At the same time, I didn’t want to seem rude. The problem is that I didn’t really practice justice/mishpat. If I had, I would have at the very least matched their commitment to share their faith (though it was a rather innocuous presentation on family). Still, I should have shared the Gospel, I should have given them the gospel in clarity, but I didn’t, because I was putting my “to do” list over and above them, my fellow – in the same boat – sisters. I put my busy-ness and my own lack of patience over and above their great need. This was not just. This was not mishpat. I am ashamed of myself and I want to look for them when they come to my door again so that I might speak to them again.

But I can’t really make-up for my failure, because I’m a sinner. The fact of the matter is that all of us fail at proper justice all the time. Our rationales are impenetrable: after all we have limited resources, limited patience, limited time; we can only do so much and if we really get into excusing-ourselves-mode: we believe that we really can determine who really deserves what (such a sinful practice). So in the end, we fail justice/mishpat…we are far away from it.

So Micah proclaims a better way. He describes fulfillment of mishpat in that in chapter 4 of Micah, the prophet announces that the LORD Himself would rescue Zion. He is the only ONE who has and who continues to do perfect justice/meshpat. He treated us all the same. He administered strict equity. He lived equally for us all, keeping God’s Law. That means each of us have the gift of a clean record, a perfect record, through Christ’s life lived for us. He died equally for us all, shedding His blood as much for your sin as for my sin and as much for any stranger’s sin as for our sin and from His mind, He knows all so that no one is a stranger. He rose equally for us, so that death is defeated for all. The Gospel has been established for all. The Gospel is given to all. All are forgiven, that means you’re included. Yes, you!

When we come to the faith that benefits from Christ’s equal treatment for us all, then Christ continues to work in other ways. His life, His justice/mishpat continues to be seen in the life of God’s people, you and me. James 2:15-16 warns us as God’s people given faith of what not to do:

15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

Pastor Mueller comments on this verse: “A mere wish or hope for justice does nothing to make justice a reality. Justice is not an impossible ideal – it is something we are to strive for. Micah doesn’t say, “love justice” (though that would make sense), He doesn’t say, “work for justice,” (though that is an admirable task). He says “act justly.” Our actions are to be just and fair towards others. James reminds us of this when he says that it accomplishes nothing if we tell someone to be warm and eat well but do not provide them with the things needed to make this a reality.” (Mueller, Steven, “Loving Christ, Serving Others,” Bible Study for Lutheran Social Services of Southern California 60th Anniversary Bible Studies, quote from Session Two: “Acting Justly,” deductive question and answer 6 in the Leader’s Guide)

That is, Christ who conducted perfect justice and saved all of us completely in strict equity, in strict equity continues to give you His life of justice for all. In strict equity you are as much forgiven, washed, cleaned, declared holy and righteous as anyone…as much as St. Paul, as much as the most sanctified Christian you know…and in strict equity you are called to act on Christ’s justice; to be as much as His ambassador of mishpat as any pastor or missionary. You are treated rightly by the LORD who is kind and gentle to all in and through His Son Jesus; and now His justice is yours in and through you because Christ is in and through you.

This life of Jesus. This infectious and overflowing justice/mishpat now shines in and through His people. A few weeks ago I was at one of our families’ homes. We had a mini discussion-devotional talk and then blessed the house. During that discussion the family shared with me something they had resolved to do. One of the parents and one of the kids had resolved to start making sandwiches on a given day of the week and then to take them to the migrant workers lining up at various locations. I was deeply moved by this example of justice/mishpat…this was Christ is active and working…ACTING out justice…doing it among people treating other people truly as neighbors and treating no one as stranger…this is the faith, this is the life of Christ…this is justice and in Christ, it is always being done. Our faith cannot be reduced to an idea…it is acted; it is done…it is mishpat…it is justice!