This summer we have taken time to consider the first reading from daily Mass. The reading from the Prophet Micah is well matched to the Gospel in which the scribes and the Pharisees are asking for a sign so they will know that Jesus is who he says he is and as a consequence they will know what to do.
Micah was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. His prophetic ministry was during the reigns of three kings of Judah: Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Outside of this book, the solitary reference to Micah (Jer 26:17–18) describes his ministry during the reign of Hezekiah and reports that he went from his small town to proclaim the word of the Lord in the capital, and asserts that his announcements of judgment against Jerusalem moved the king and the people to repentance. Unlike Isaiah, who was a native of the holy city, Micah was an outsider from the countryside and must have been a controversial figure. He would have been unpopular with the leaders whom he condemned and the wealthy whom he criticized. He was quick to separate himself from priests and other prophets, whom he considered to be corrupt.
The Book of the Prophet Micah reveals a flow of prophecies of punishment to ones of salvation, closing with an expression of confidence in God’s salvation (7:7–20). Our passage comes from Micah 6:1-8. The use of the word “plea” points to a legal procedure: summoning the court and witnesses, naming the defendant, cross-examination of the defendant, the defendant’s response and final statement, and at the end, the judge’s verdict.
- The universe is the courtroom with the mountains and earth as star witnesses
- Israel is the defendant with God pleading His own case against them
- The cross examination consists of an appeal to the Lord’s gracious deeds, but also God’s personal agony over Israel’s apostasy. The prophet recounts salvation history from Exodus to the Promised Land as God’s complete of every promise of the covenant. The abrupt “Answer me!” shows there is a limit on God’s patience.
- Finally, the defendant speaks, knowing he stands condemned. He immediately offers recompense in terms of ritual – even offering up the first born son.
God’s verdict is to offer a second chance:
- “to do the right,” as stipulated in the laws of the covenant; “to love goodness” according to bonds attaching them to one another and to God in the covenant; and
- “to walk humbly” by realizing that God’s compassion is their only hope.
We would be wise to do the same things and not stand around looking for a sign.