Micah 6:1-4, 6-8
Memory and imagination work hand in hand as we listen to today’s biblical messages. They can help us focus on an ever present concern: what am I to do?
The prophet Micah shows his adeptness at doing what prophets do well: bringing God’s program to bear upon our way of life by calling on the past. He reverts to the major memory coloring Jewish history: the exodus of the Hebrew people from the land of Egypt, laying on the backs of these people something of a guilt trip for their failure to show God the proper gratitude owed Him for this favor. He even toys with the idea of bringing them to a "court of law" for this travesty of responsiveness to such kindness on His part. But He backs off from what can be a fairly clear procedure and prefers to appeal to this people’s imagination in the form of a dilemma across their pathway: what to do, in recognition of His kindness to them? Offer sacrifice in the temple? Micah comes up with an answer on their behalf, a moral ideal: they are to walk before the Lord with justice, mercy and love: this is the higher road for them to follow, a way that God will find acceptable.
If Micah shows God seeking a response of memory and imagination to His overtures on behalf of the Hebrew people, later on we find them, in turn, (on this occasion, the Scribes and Pharisees), pressing Jesus for some kind of sign to validate His credentials supporting His claims, which again call on memory of their own history, linked to the prophet, Jonah, whose sojourn in the belly of a whale for three days and three nights was for Jesus an eerie sign of His three days in the tomb following the death He clearly foresaw. Jesus’ attempt to evoke this memory of Jonah was clearly less successful than Jonah’s own preaching to the people of Nineveh. Jesus also delves into another historical incident, about the Queen of the south going to great lengths to see and hear King Solomon, and contrasted to it the reception He was receiving from the Scribes and Pharisees around Him. They clearly could not imagine Jesus possessing the same credentials as Solomon.
We are given a hint here about a procedure that we might gainfully employ in responding to God’s enrichment of our lives: going back into our own personal history and there re-discovering traces of God’s overtures on our behalf: the opportunities He has bestowed on us, the endowments with which He has gifted us, the alerts and warnings He has placed along our pathway about the dangers that lie ahead, or the significant people He has introduced into our lives. Our own personal history contains riches, just as instructive as the history of the Hebrew people.
The most empowering of God’s overtures on our behalf is the Passion reference Jesus makes to the unfriendly and belligerent group badgering Him for a sign: His three days and nights "in the heart of the earth". This especially can evoke in us a response laid out by the prophet Micah: "…to walk before the Lord with justice, mercy and love". Can we not be more responsive to it than the scribes and Pharisees were on this occasion? Only if our memory and imagination prove equal to the opportunity presented us.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.