The first reading for Monday from the Book of the Prophet Micah sets forth an important teaching on what the Lord fundamentally requires of us, something that is essential for our good.
The Riv – In Hebrew, a “riv” is a kind of lawsuit. The Lord summons all creation to hear the charge He levels against His people. We who are the pinnacle of His creation in some way represent all of His creation and so must also answer before all of creation as to whether we have represented creation well.
Hear, O mountains, the plea of the LORD,
pay attention, O foundations of the earth!
For the LORD has a plea against his people,
and he enters into trial with Israel.
Allegorically, then, creation is presented as conscious and aware, as a kind of witness. Even if this is not literally the case, neither is it true that we are simply living inside some sort of machine. Creation is a revelation of God, of His glory, His law, and His order. As such, it witnesses to us through the natural law what is good or evil, and it manifests the will of the one who created it—and we are part of that creation.
God therefore turns the tables. What is a witness to us now becomes a witness to our living apart from what God expects. Whenever we violate the natural law, we experience its sentence. There is an old saying that God always forgives, and man sometimes forgives, but nature never forgives. So, it is not good when God calls nature to witness against us. It is better to fall into the hands of God!
The Reproach – The core of God’s reproach is that His people weary of Him. Their hearts are far from Him:
O my people, what have I done to you,
or how have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
from the place of slavery I released you;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
It would seem that they weary of their prayers and sacrifices and of being obedient. We who live in affluent but secular times should acknowledge that most us seldom acknowledge God; we seldom pray to Him or offer the sacrifice on Sunday morning or the sacrifice of an obedient faith. We who have been so blessed with abundance and comfort have collectively said through our actions that prayer, praise, and anything about God that might inconvenience us is wearisome.
God speaks to our heart and asks us to remember His blessings. He does not do this because He has a big ego and needs praise but because we need to keep our hearts close to Him. We must listen to Him and heed what he says. Otherwise, we block our future blessings as well as those of our descendants.
The Reaction – God’s people react with what can be interpreted either as scornful hyperbole or as a cry of desperation.
With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow before God most high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with myriad streams of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my crime,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
If the text is hyperbole, then it can be read to mean: “What? You want even more? Are the Temple sacrifices not enough? Must I multiply these wearisome things even more? Do you now seek even thousands of sheep, rivers of oils, my first-born, even me?”
This cry goes up today as religious practice seems burdensome to many: “You want even more of my time? Is there another Holy Day when I must go to Mass? Do you really want a tenth of my income? When will you stop asking me to think of the poor? Haven’t I done enough already? Rosaries, devotions, Lenten sacrifices, abstinence, regular confession—when is it ever enough?” Never mind that we devote far more time and money and make more sacrifices for things related to work, the American dream, and sporting events. An hour at Mass is a burden, but three or four hours watching football is a delight.
Another way to interpret ancient Israel’s reaction is to see it as a cry of desperation. Convicted of a wearisome heart, she admits her fault and despairs of ever being able to love the Lord wholeheartedly. Israel is weary, but in her weariness, she sees no strength to be rejuvenated and have her heart come alive again.
In our times, too, there are those who know of their sin and yet despair that they can change or do better. This amounts to a sin against hope and a lack of trust in God, who seeks not our ruin or depression, but our salvation and joy.
Both the despairing cry and the scornful hyperbole amount to a false absolute of what God seeks.
The Requirement – In the end, the Lord seeks the one thing He does not have: entrance to their hearts. God, who is all powerful, stands at the door of our hearts and knocks (see Rev. 3:20).
You have been told, O man, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
It helps to reverse the order of these requirements to see how they are a work of grace. Thus, to be humble is realize that we need God; we need His wisdom, grace, and truth. Without these we cannot walk; we stumble and fall. With humility, though, we admit God into hearts and we walk with Him.
This in turn makes us love goodness, for when God enters our heart by His grace, we begin to love who and what God loves. Thus, our loving of goodness is not merely the stirring up of an emotion; it is a transformation by God’s grace, which comes when we humbly admit our need and allow Him entrance to our heart.
What we love, we do. So, as we love goodness we will do it, not because we have to but because we want to. This is the effect of God’s transforming grace.
In the end, the requirement is not thousands of fat lambs; it is our heart, humbly seeking Him. God “requires” it because He respects our freedom. It is required for us to open the door from the inside when God knocks.
So, in this passage God enters into a “riv” or legal case with us. In the end, though, it is the cry of a loving God to His beloved: “I sense your weariness. Where has your heart gone?” The beloved cries out in exasperation or despair, “What more do you want?” The Lord replies, “Nothing but you, nothing but you.”