Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pleasing One's Congregation: Bible Commentary on Micah 3 with poem by James Russell Lowell, Stanzas on Freedom

Daily Readings
Job 25 Exodus 14:5-31 Micah 3 I Corinthians 2

Daily Text: Micah 3

Pleasing One’s Congregation
Micah 3 is an entity that is a self-contained essay that addresses the injustice of Jerusalem’s leadership with special emphasis on Micah’s own colleagues, the prophets. Within the essay is a well-defined description of the problem in verses 1-4, application to the prophets in verses 5-8 and a reading of consequences in verses 9-12.

The problem is stated in verse 1 and 2a. The leaders fully understand that the nature of justice requires the embracing of the good and the rejection of evil for the sake of the people the leaders govern. But they do the opposite, hating the good and loving the evil.

A special word from the LORD is addressed to the prophets who are tailoring their message to those who give them food, that is, those who support them. Pleasing their congregation requires for them a message that is Peace and Salvation. For those who for whatever reason do not support them, the prophets reserve a kind of war. Since they keep their ear on their supporters and their eye on the rest, these prophets have no time or inclination to listen or see to the revelation of God. Contemporary pastors know this conundrum well. If they please their congregation they must remain virtually silent on the political and justice issues of the day. If Micah had done that, we would not have this prophecy, as we do not have the messages of those he is criticizing! But congregations inevitably do not want the preacher to question their own behavior or the behavior of those they may support. Rocking the boat is dangerous to the pastor. It was no different in Micah’s day. But because he was willing to rock the boat, and God knows he well nigh capsized it, his willingness to do so left him free. He was free to be filled with the spirit and the authority of the LORD. He was free to take up issues of justice, free to exercise courage, free to denounce injustice and sin. He was determined to have his mouth filled by God and not by the national leadership or the weight of congregational opinion.

Another big question is what the goal is of having such authority as Micah claims? Hans Walter Wolff says it this way, “The goal is public accusation and indictment: ‘to declare to Jacob his rebelliousness and to Israel his delinquency.’[485:76]” God is interested in the entire sweep of human and creation life, not some abrogated form of spiritually insipid personal religion. No reading of the Hebrew Scriptures can lead to any other clear understanding. This understanding is found over and over again throughout the Hebrew and the Christian testaments. Why then do we not hear it from our pulpits?

Micah’s conclusion of his essay gives us a pretty clear picture. The rulers are taking bribes. They had lobbyists with money to be passed out even in the eighth century B.C. The priests taught only if they were paid extra stipends. The prophets refused to preach unless they were paid. Is this a diatribe against public and religious servants being paid? No. It is an accusation that money was speaking more loudly than God. Reimbursement bought more than service; with it the man was also bought [485:77]. That is no less true today than it was 2800 years ago. For the sake of ‘peace’ we fail to cry ‘wolf’ even when we see it at the door.

Stanzas on Freedom
James Russell Lowell

Men! whose boast it is that ye
Come of fathers brave and free,
If there breathe on earth a slave,
Are ye truly free and brave?
If ye do not feel the chain
When it works a brother’s pain,
Are ye not base slaves indeed,
Slaves unworthy to be freed!

Is true Freedom but to break
Fetters for our own dear sake,
And, with leathern hearts, forget
That we owe mankind a debt?
No! True Freedom is to share
All the chains our brothers wear,
And, with heart and hand, to be
Earnest to make others free!

They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think:
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.

Collect for the Day
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life’s battle-field, but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved, but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone;
but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.
[395:1205:Rabindranath Tagore]


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