He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
A popular movie theme recently has been about the leading character losing their memory. They do not recall who they are or anything about their past. Imagine what it must be like to not remember any of our loved ones, what we do, who we are, or our important relationships. Imagine what it must feel like as our memory gradually returns and we awaken again to know who we are, what we do, what we like, what is important to us, and who is important to us.
I have no direct experience of this; I can only imagine. But what I have experienced and continue to experience is not remembering my identity in Christ. I am not always awake to my relationship with God and the priorities of my life as a spiritual being. I simply forget at times that I am a Child of God, and if you are like me, sometimes we need reminding of who we truly are.
It is difficult living as Jason Bourne, the movie character who loses his memory and finds that he is good at tying knots. People around him think that he is a sailor. He is not convinced because he has these other skills that don’t add up to being a sailor.
We sometimes look at what we do and conclude that our actions make us who we are. After all, we have been told that we are what we do. But it’s not quite that simple. In our Bible verse, we are told that God shows us what is good. God states in Jeremiah 31 that a New Covenant will he made with his people, and this law will be placed in our hearts and written in our minds. He would be our God, and we would be his people. Verse 34 then says, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
According to some theologians, this New Covenant began when Jesus uttered the words on the cross, “It is finished.” That was the end of one rule of law and the beginning of another. The first covenant was written down, the second is at a spiritual level, a deep internal dimension. This new law ushered in by Christ was spoken to the prophet Ezekiel some 600 years prior. In Ezekiel 36:26-27, the prophet shared that God said, “I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.”
Exciting stuff! We are promised by God that we will know God, everyone will know God. We will know God’s desires for us; we will know God’s good, God’s direction, and it will be on our hearts and in our minds and this is what Christ came to deliver. Through this new law under Christ, we know innately what is right, how to live justly, how to live in joy, peace, and love. Now we must awaken to that mandate that dwells in our hearts. That new law, that new covenant, is given to us clearly in John 13:34. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
The Old Covenant required that we change the way we behaved. That is what the Ten Commandments are all about – changing our behavior. It was about protocol and rituals. But what the New Law requires is that we think differently, at a new level of awareness. We don’t have to bring sacrifices to God, or worship in a particular manner. We must awaken and remember who we are.
So Micah gives us three simple things to jog our memories and reawaken us when we are sleepwalking through life: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Through these three simple steps we awaken the Christ within us and apply Christ’s Law to our lives.
At the time this Bible verse was written, Israel had some challenges. They were bogged down in religious ritual and treated each other unfairly. The leaders of the Temples thought of themselves above others; they were proud and arrogant.
No matter how much ritual – action – they engaged in, they had separated themselves from God. God was trying to tell them, and tell us, that religious ritual does not in and of itself build a close spiritual relationship with our Creator. We don’t need ritual to know God; that knowledge already lies within us.
As we apply love to our actions, as we act justly, doing the right things to the best of our abilities, a flash of memory leaps into our heart and begins to change. It is the change of heart that binds us to the Divine. That is where our awakening begins … in the heart.
When we open our hearts to the flow of God’s love, we begin to feel differently … we feel loving! At these times, because we feel differently we also think and act differently. We start to wake up to who we truly are and we want to treat people differently – with respect, appreciation, acceptance, and compassion. We treat others fairly and we do what is right. We can do what is right because through the power of God’s love we know what the right thing to do is. It is written on our hearts and inscribed on our minds.
Unless we are filled with God’s love, righteousness -- doing what is right, thinking what is right -- eludes us. This is because we attract what we are thinking and feeling. If we are devoid of love we simply cannot create within us the proper conditions to attract justice or other spiritual qualities.
It is through God’s love that we become just and fair, to ourselves as well as others. When God’s love moves through us we are renewed and begin to remember. We remember that we are a child of God, made in God’s image and reflect the qualities of God, so it becomes intolerable for us to treat others wrongly. Our guilt lovingly redirects our thoughts and actions.
In Jeremiah 31:3 God tells us: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” We begin to reflect the love that draws us to God, and we love everyone and everything, including ourselves.
We begin to love who we are and how we are acting. We love the wonderful qualities that we see within ourselves, and even accept the weaknesses and faults – our humanness. We begin to love the way we treat others, we love our relationships, and how we relate to our environment. Ultimately, we begin to love the mercy that we show others.
The Bible uses the Hebrew word hesed to describe mercy. It means “loyal love” or “loving kindness in action”. It is a compassionate warm-heartedness toward others, not only treating them fairly, but showing mercy and forgiveness when we are mistreated. Mercy conveys the idea of unexpected and unwarranted love and kindness. It is performing acts of kindness out of love. So, we are instructed to not only show mercy or have mercy, but to love mercy. We are expected to love the act of loving…and this happens when we open our hearts to Spirit.
The third part of awakening to the inner law is to walk humbly with our God. As God’s love flows through us, its power softens our heart, sharpens our vision, illuminates our way, and we step more assuredly along life’s meandering and treacherous paths.
As we fill with God’s love, we understand that it is not us, our own lone self that is accomplishing anything. As Jesus so clearly states in John 14:10 “The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.”
That is humility; acknowledging that it is not ‘me’ who is doing any good deeds, it is God expressing through me, as me; it is God who is doing the works.
Another aspect of humility is through the action of receiving. From what I have observed, the most humble spirits accept a gift with a sincere and simple “Thank you.” They are gracious in receiving; their hearts are open to the gifts and abundance that God offers.
And all of God’s good is being offered to us: good plans, good people, good events … all of our good is available to us. It is a sad act of ignorant arrogance that we close our hearts and minds to this good in our lives. We tell ourselves that we are unworthy. We tell ourselves that we are undeserving of the good that flows to us. We allow our pride, our ego, our small self-centered thoughts to interfere, and dictate what we receive.
God’s good is always offered to us. God’s love and forgiveness is always available, but we must raise our consciousness to receive it. By becoming aware our true nature and our relationship with the Divine, we remember that we are a deserving, worthy, precious child of God.
Micah’s message is still pertinent today. Religious rites, no matter how extravagant, can never compensate for a lack of love. 1 Corinthians 13:3 teaches: “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Outer compliance to religious rules, observations, and requirements are not as effective in building a relationship with God as a humble heart that simply does what is right.
My prayer is that our spiritual amnesia is healed, and we remember who we are. I pray that we awaken to Christ so that we again know what is of value, what principles, relationships, and priorities are important. It is my prayer that through the power of God’s love we remember whose we are, and as a Child of God I pray that we will take to heart the interpretation of this simple formula as expressed by Rabbi Tarfon: Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.