With what shall I come before the LORD, 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 ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
God 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? (Micah 6:6-8)
The prophet Micah asks: What is it that God requires in order for us to be pleasing? In order to be acceptable? What does God want from us anyway? Micah answers: This – do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Then why do we humans have such a hard time doing justice, being kind and living our lives with humility and reverance? What is so bent within us that these three simple things trip us up over and over again?
There is a bent-ness inherent about us, I think. There is a bent-ness that permeates the entire world. Martin Luther defined sin as “the self bent in upon itself.” We humans do tend to curve in on ourselves, don’t we? Consequently we have created a world that is curved in on itself and so is very often unjust and unkind and arrogant. We see these negative values played out in the news reports everywhere we turn. And we see countless people who are being damaged every single day by our society’s injustices, mean spiritedness and hubris.
Many of our Jewish cousins are committed to tikkun olam – “repair of the world.” This has long been a value of Judaism: to intentionally perform caring acts that can help mend the frayed fabric of our shared human life. Acts of personal charity. Acts of social advocacy for the homeless and the hurting and the hungry. Acts that protect and preserve our environment.
Tikkun olam – an effort to repair the world. This is a tradition rooted in the Scriptures: Micah and Joel and Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah. The prophetic call throughout history, the clarion call to do justice for the widow, for the orphan, for the poor, for the exploited, for the neglected, for the stranger, for the vulnerable.
THIS is the call of the word of the Lord over and over and over again. THESE are biblical values. How can we not hear that? Why does this so-called Christian society in America not get that? We have become so bent in on ourselves that we forget the whole reason for our existence is to love our God and to love our neighbor.
I know you know this little story. It’s been around for years but it’s worth repeating.
A child stood at the seashore. Thousands of starfish had been stranded on the sand by the outgoing tide and they were slowly dying. The child was picking them up one by one and tossing them back into the waves.
A grown up came along. He had seen a lot of life, was seasoned and experienced and therefore a touch cynical. “What are you doing?” he asked the child.
“I’m saving the starfish,” she replied.
The man watched as she picked up another and tossed it back into the sea. He watched some more as she picked up one, two, three more starfish. But there were thousands; there was no way one little girl could save them all. “Why do you keep on doing this?” the man asked. “Don’t you know you can’t possibly save them all? There is no way you can make a difference for so many starfish.”
The girl stopped, looked at him, thought for a minute. Then she stooped over, picked up another starfish and flung it into the water. “It makes a difference for that one,” she said.
Mark tells us a story about a paralyzed man. Like a starfish stranded on a beach, he was stuck, helpless, lifeless. But this man was fortunate to have a community of friends who cared. They were willing to be inconvenienced, willing to look foolish, willing to risk. So the friends carried hope for the man; and then they literally carried him to the One who can really make a difference in a life. Maybe they couldn’t repair the entire world, but they did what they could, they did it together and it made a difference for one precious soul.
As you read these little stories Mark tells, you will start noticing that they are mini-resurrection stories. Again and again, we meet someone who is down and out, laid low, stuck, helpless, lifeless. And then – they meet Jesus. It is in this Jesus that they encounter God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s healing, God’s kindness, God’s life. And they are raised to new life.
Each one of these stories is the gospel in miniature: good news made tangible, made real. The gospel enfleshed in one person after another. We once were lost and now we’re found. We once were blind and now we see. We once were sick and now we’re whole. We once were dead and now we live. The good news goes on and on.
And this is true because – in a time and in a place – Jesus entered into our human condition; shared our brokenness, our lostness, our paralysis; Jesus entered into death. Jesus took it all on. And in this self-giving, Jesus himself encountered God’s grace, God’s healing, God’s kindness and God’s life.
Because of the generosity and self-giving of Jesus the Christ, because of the faithfulness of God who is life itself, death is in the process of becoming undone. Because of the gospel, the brokenness of humanity is becoming whole, the lost are being found, the pain is being healed, the sin is being forgiven.
So those of us who are people of the good news of Jesus Christ don’t have to remain paralyzed over the brokenness of our world; we too can choose to enter into the pain of our neighbors; we can work to remove whatever barriers keep them from wholeness; we can bring them to the One who heals and repairs; we can make a difference.
Each one of us doing what we can: tikkun olam. All of us together – willing to be inconvenienced, to risk, even to look foolish or odd or unusual to those around us.
The people of God committed to doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly.
As Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have prayed:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone.”
At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”