Psalm 50:5-6,8-9,16bc-17,21 and 23
Micah says today that the Lord enters into trial with Israel, he takes them to court. The Lord does not take the role of judge, but rather the part of the offended party who initiates a lawsuit against Israel for breaking the covenant. Micah is the one who presents the Lord’s case: “The Lord begs his people to tell him what offense of his might have provoked them to betray the covenant so completely. While he formed them by his justice in redeeming them from slavery in the Exodus, they have reduced the covenant relationship to an empty ritual to mask lives that are devoid of integrity” (M. Duggan, The Consuming Fire, Ignatius Press, 273).
The Lord asks three things of his people. First, they must do what is good, what is right, what is just. Social injustice cannot continue. Second, they must love goodness and kindness. They must act with mercy, loyalty and fidelity. Man is called to respond with love to God’s love. Third, they must walk humbly with their God. This means living in the Lord’s presence and acting in conformity with God’s ways and being acceptable to God (see T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 194).
God desires right conduct more than sacrifice; he rejects mechanistic piety of worship that does not include proper social and ethical conduct: “Without justice, kindness, and fidelity, ‘burnt offerings… thousands of rams… ten thousand rivers of oil’ (Mic 6:6-7) are meaningless” (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 195).
In the Gospel, the Pharisees have started to plan how to put Jesus to death (Matthew 12:14). They approach Jesus today, not seeking to learn wisdom from him, but looking for a way to trap him. If Jesus and his message are from God, then he has to provide a validating sign. For the Pharisees, the miracles, healings and exorcisms are not enough. They explain away these signs, attributing them to the power of the devil (12:24).
Jesus sees their hearts and says that they are part of an evil and unfaithful generation. This is the exact opposite of what God asks from his people through the prophet Micah. This generation is unfaithful to the covenant and set on committing evil. “The language also recalls the Israelites in the desert who were disinherited from the promised land because they were an ‘evil generation’ (Deut 1:35), ‘perverse and crooked generation’ (Deut 32:5, RSV). Like the generation in the desert who saw many signs and refused to believe (Deut 29:1-3), the scribes and Pharisees will be disinherited from the kingdom if they persist in their rejection of Christ” (C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, 171).
The only sign Jesus gives the scribes and Pharisees is the sign of Jonah. This has two dimensions to it. First, Jesus will be accused by the religious leaders and put to death; however, like Jonah, who was thrown out onto land after three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, Jesus will rise from the heart of the earth after three days and nights. The Resurrection is the ultimate sign that demonstrates his divine authority. Second, Jesus gives two examples of Gentiles who believed: the men of Nineveh, pagan Gentiles, repented at the preaching of Jonah; the queen of Sheba, a pagan, sought wisdom from King Solomon. “These pagans exhibited more faith than the scribes and Pharisees!. If these Gentiles responded to Jonah and Solomon, how much more should the scribes and Pharisees respond positively to Jesus” (C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 173).
God did great things for his people, freeing them from slavery, entering into a covenant with them, giving them water, manna and food in the desert. Despite God’s love and mercy, the people were unfaithful to the covenant and worshiped the golden calf, they murmured against Moses, and longed to return to Egypt. Likewise, Jesus does great things for God’s people, he frees them from the slavery of sin, establishes a New Covenant, gives them living water and bread from heaven. Despite his love and mercy, the scribes and Pharisees, rejected him and put him to death, accusing him of blasphemy and of violating God’s law.
Today God asks us to “answer him”. Our answer is a prayer: a prayer asking for forgiveness for the times we have committed evil and been unfaithful to God; a prayer of thanksgiving for the great things he has done for us; a prayer of intercession for our brothers and sisters, for our enemies; a prayer of praise that gives him glory because he is our God. In the Eucharist, we offer the acceptable sacrifice to God. This sacrifice is not meaningless, because it is the sacrifice which restores us to friendship with God and strengthens our bonds of communion.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].