Micah 3.5-12; 1 Thessalonians 2.9-13; Matthew
Almighty and eternal God, you have kindled the flame of love
in the hearts of the saints: grant to us the same faith and power
of love, that, as we rejoice in their triumphs, we may be sustained
by their example and fellowship; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A MAP helps us to understand Micah's message. He was from
Moresheth, one of a string of named places (Micah 1.1,11-15) in the
foothills about 30 miles south-west of Jerusalem, between the
coastal plain (near today's Gaza, then Philistia) and the mountains
around Jerusalem. That gave him a very different perspective on
life from people living in or near Jerusalem. This is a cry from
In 721 BC, the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians; and
Assyrian demands for tribute from the southern kingdom created
economic instability and a social crisis.
For Isaiah, Jerusalem was impregnable because it was the city of
God (Isaiah 31.4-5); for Micah, living more vulnerably in an area
attacked by the Philistines and now occupied by the Assyrians (2
Chronicles 28.16-21, 32.9), the destruction of Zion was a real
threat (Micah 3.12). Even the fortified hill city of Lachish, about
five miles from his home, had fallen.
Yet Micah explicitly inveighed not against the Assyrians, but
against the cruelty and injustice of his own rulers (Micah 3.1-4).
He blamed all this on the sinful way of life of Judah and Samaria,
north of Jerusalem (Micah 1.1-7).
Kings frequently sought the will of God, or the gods, and Micah
accused prophets in the royal courts of prophesying what the King
wanted to hear, since they depended on him for their food. Years
earlier, Micaiah had been struck and put on reduced rations for
refusing to prophesy to order (1 Kings 22).
Like Jeremiah (6.14, 8.11) and Ezekiel (13.10-16), Micah stood
bravely against lying, self-interested prophesying of peace. A
century later, his stance was remembered (Jeremiah 26.17-19).
Describing himself as filled with power and the spirit of the Lord,
fearless for justice and might, ready to name sin as sin and unable
to be bribed, he denounced his nation's perversion of justice and
equity. Today's reading sounds like condemnation of the prophets,
but, heard in context, was essentially judgement on a whole
There is a felicitous juxtaposition with the lectionary's course
reading of 1 Thessalonians, where St Paul, who had suffered at the
hands of a mob in Thessalonica (Acts 17.1-10), described himself in
similar terms to Micah's. Coming to them without deceit, flattery,
greed, or a desire for praise, and expecting nothing from his
hearers (1 Thessalonians 2.3-7), he described his way of life in
positive terms: pure, upright, blameless, fatherly,
Then we find Jesus leaving the Temple that had been rebuilt
twice since Micah prophesied, the city having been destroyed as
Micah expected. Herod's rebuilding, begun before Jesus's birth,
took 46 years (John 2.20); so, as a boy visiting Jerusalem for the
Passover, Jesus would remember it as a building site. His disciples
were examining its enormous stones, but, when they admired its
impregnability, Jesus echoed Micah's warning of its destruction,
fulfilled by the Romans in AD 70.
We hear these readings at a time when the world is in convulsion
yet again. We are marking the centenary of the war that decimated
the fabric of Europe: wars do the same in the Middle East. The same
human hatreds and capacity for cruelty manifest themselves as in
biblical times. Now, as then, local geography renders people living
away from the centre of power vulnerable in ways that people in
secure locations cannot comprehend.
Despair is always a possibility. But Micah, Paul, and Jesus deny
us that option. "God's word is at work in believers," Paul says. "I
am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and
might," Micah says. We can choose to live righteously, as Micah
did. That much is within our power, albeit sometimes searingly
Today the Church refocuses its gaze towards Advent and the
coming of God's Messiah. This weekend of All Saints' and All Souls'
Days, we remember all the faithful people of God, famous or
unremarked. Both our world situation and our liturgical context
should shape our response to the readings.
We remind ourselves that God has kindled the flame of love in
the hearts of the saints, and pray for the same faith and power of
love, asking to be sustained by their example and fellowship. Micah
and Paul join the ranks as our companions on the way, and, taking
courage from their examples, our response must be to pray for those
who face similar sufferings today.