Finding advent candles is a challenge. In Mid December I was running around in search of pink and purple tapers. If you have ever run out of candles during advent, you know that the rest of the candle lighting season depends on either being by-the-grace-of-God-lucky or super creative. I did not want to be super creative; I wanted to be lucky.
The third store of the day and a large coffee meant one thing: I had to pee. Settling into the bathroom, I noticed a picture on the wall of something pink and florally with Micah 6:8 printed on it.
“Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”
We are in synecdoche country again, so it’s not really fair to chop it up, but I think we tend to chop it up and that’s why this passage often troubles me. Justice and mercy and humility create different and opposing concepts for us. If justice is getting what you deserve and mercy isn’t, then how do you do both at the same time? If justice comes with a sense of honor and pride how can you receive or administer justice in humility? And if humility is defined as prudence, as some translations indicate, is it always wise to act justly or mercifully? We view justice as fairness, mercy as weakness and humility as worthlessness.
Jesus’ definition of justice, mercy and humility got him nailed to a cross. And really, this definition is the only one of value. By our definition of justice, Jesus would have been cleared. By our definition of mercy, Jesus would have cut the disciples and Pharisees some slack. By our definition of humility, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane would have been, “Who am I to save these people?” not “…let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Christ must be the window through which we view every person and situation, especially if we are serious about our call to be the presence of Christ to our world.
But if using Jesus as a window were easy churches would be packed, we would probably have solved world hunger, and racism would be completely eradicated. And those are just corporate issues. In very obstinate ways, we don’t really want mercy for a church member/leader, a family member or those obnoxious kiosk people in the mall. We want people getting what they deserve. We want them to fall on their asses because of what they’ve done. We take pleasure in watching people get what we think they deserve, and this shouldn’t be.
The Jesus-window turns justice upside down and mercy gets muscles. The Cross is justice, undeserved love and relationship with God, available to all. This should inspire mercy for others because we have first been shown God’s justice: a form of mercy, something we do not deserve. Every act, then, every ounce of our lives should be lived out of gratitude and in recognition of the justice/mercy we received. We root for our definitions of justice to be served. God-in-us roots for His justice, and until we yield to His definition of justice there will be no peace.
Yet, when applying Jesus’ justice and mercy to our relationships, the Jesus-window can be paralyzing. The Bible gives us examples of His behavior and the tough love He often demonstrated, but we aren’t Jesus. We aren’t God. We can’t know the best choice for ultimate good in the heavy, day-to-day circumstances of our lives.
How do you combat cycles of addiction in loved ones as Christ would? How do you deal with abusive relationships? (My mom’s solution often involves chopping off a body part…too Old Testament.) When someone is constantly using the system to slack off, or to not do their job at all and still earning more than the diligent, while the fate of the whole operation hangs in the balance, how do you respond in justice and mercy? What’s the right thing to do and how do you cope with the part of you that wants punch-you-in-the-face justice?
Spinning yourself dizzy with these seemingly solution-less problems, worry lulls you to sleep more often than your breath prayer and while still in the pleasant haze of post sleep, you suspect you’ve reason to not feel so pleasant. It’s not long until recollection sweeps away the cobwebs with sickening clarity, “Oh, yeah…that’s why I was feeling miserable…this daily hell-grind I live in.”
In the day-to-day of our individual hell-grinds, we have been given something to supersede the doubts of right and wrong, of definitions and conceptions. We are under the justice, mercy and humility that hung on a cross and died for the love of the unlovable. We must ever-cling to the Love in constant pursuit of our addicted loved one, our church members, the slackers; a Love in constant pursuit of you and me, knowing the ultimate good and working it into being.