Weekly Meditation: 29th January 2017
1st Corinthians 1:18-31
If we read God’s law in the Pentateuch it looks long and complex, but in Micah it is summed up in a few words. All that God requires of his people is that they ‘act justly and love mercy and walk humbly’ (6:8b).
Israel’s worship of the Lord had become lip service. Their ceremonies and offerings were perfunctory. Their hearts and minds were so disengaged that not the most extravagant gifts would impress or appease the Lord (6:6-7). What he needed from his people could not be fulfilled by elaborate religious observances or by material offerings, but had to be dredged up from their hearts – justice, mercy and humility.
The one exhibiting those qualities will, according to the psalmist, dwell in God’s sanctuary, live on his holy hill (15:1). Such a one is described as ‘blameless’ (15:2). They are not qualities that hit the headlines. Individuals like that may well be unnoticed and unacknowledged, but in God’s eyes they are precious.
Jesus similarly gave a list of unlikely qualities that are blessed – poor in spirit, mourning, meek, longing for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted (Matthew 5:3-10). There was no promise of instant rewards, rather they might lead to insults, false accusations and suffering, but the reward in heaven would be great (5:12).These teachings of the Kingdom reveal just what a topsy-turvy world God is making – where the first are last and the last first, where the poor and meek are honoured, and where prostitutes and sinners go ahead of religious leaders on ‘the way of righteousness’ (see Matthew 21:31-32). What Jesus preaches is not at all what the world would recognise as the best way to success, and his words are a timely reminder to us that it is possible to find ourselves on the wrong road, not walking God’s path at all, because it is so easy to be side-tracked by the glitter of the world and to take on board its values. In a celebrity-obsessed culture such as ours, how readily we can disparage the quiet qualities that God values – justice, mercy and humility. It is similarly easy to pursue paths to success that deny justice to others, to disregard the needs of the poor and marginalised, and to seek acclaim for all we do – the antithesis of humility.
In fact the message of the Kingdom might look like downright foolishness. Paul certainly understood the way in which the world – ‘those who are perishing’ - would judge the Christian faith (1st Corinthians 1:18). The message of a crucified messiah is, however, more powerful than ‘miraculous signs’ or human ‘wisdom’, though it presents a ‘stumbling block’ to those without the humility to hear (1:22-25). But to those who do hear God’s call, he gives ‘righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1:31). It is wonderful – though humbling – to read that God has not chosen many wise people to follow him, not many celebrities (1:26); rather, he has chosen the ‘foolish...weak ...lowly ...despised’ (1:27-28). There is nothing to boast about in having been chosen by God (and who would want to boast about being foolish, weak, lowly and despised?). It is an act of grace (1:29-31).
The qualities that God requires of us (Micah 6:1-8) must be displayed in all the ways in which we interact with others. They must be displayed in our churches too. When Christianity is expressed in magnificent buildings, gorgeous vestments, treasures, riches and ceremony, as it is in some denominations, we must ensure that at the heart of what we are doing for God is the simplicity of his words to Micah. Teaching must be offered humbly, by men and women who are motivated by love for God; giving must be sacrificial; the poor and the lost must be valued and treated with respect and love.
Justice, mercy, humility. Guard your footsteps. Keep to that path.