The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and ministered in Judah from the reign of King Jotham, (740-736BC) until the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 701BC. He experienced and saw the devastating power of the Assyrian Empire and draws on that experience to describe future judgment. Throughout his book, Micah uses the fate of Israel and Samaria as a warning about the judgment that awaits Jerusalem and Judah unless it changes its sinful ways.
“On the domestic scene, Micah indicts the leadership classes – the rulers, prophets, priests, and judges (for example, 3:9-12) – and inveighs against a wide array of sinful behavior: idolatry (1:7; 5:13-14); the coveting of fields and houses (2:2); the repossession of the homes of women and the taking away of their children (2:9); the exploitation of people (3:1-2); the perversion of justice and equality (3:9; 7:3); the shedding of innocent blood (3:10); bribery and corrupt judicial decisions (3:11); sorcery and soothsaying (5:12); the fixing of scales for cheating (6:11); lies and violence (6:12)” (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 189).
“In the tradition of Amos, Micah was appalled by the corruption that was rampant in the city. […] The wealthy amassed vast real-estate holdings by taking possession of the inherited properties of the poor in lieu of debt payments (2:1-5). The numbers of homeless people, especially single women with children, increased as the rich seized land, houses, and the pledges of the poor (2:8-10). Farmers could not get fair prices for their goods because of the crooked dealings in the city markets (6:10-12). The civil authorities oppressed the poor (3:1-4); magistrates accepted bribes (7:3); even the court prophets and Temple priests were so tied into the system of social favors that they seemed to languish in a stupor and spoke no truth (2:6-7,11;3:11)” (M. Duggan, The Consuming Fire, Ignatius Press 273).
Micah understood that as a prophet of the Lord, he was filled with the power and with the spirit of the Lord, with justice and might, so that he can declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin (Micah 3:8). He begins his book with a judgment against Israel and Judah, namely, against Samaria and Jerusalem (1:2-2:11). The fate of Samaria is a warning for Jerusalem. Our first reading is taken from that judgment, where Micah decries the unjust seizure of land and homes: “[Those who plan iniquity] covet fields, and seize them; houses, and they take them. They cheat an owner of his house, a man of his inheritance” (Micah 2:2).
Micah goes beyond his contemporary Isaiah in two ways. First, by using the word “covet”, from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21), he shows how the seizure of fields and houses is a violation of the covenant between God and the people. Second, Micah identifies the land as the inheritance of the oppressed. “Taking possession of the inheritance of another was the crime of Ahab whose his wife, Jezebel, had concocted a devious plan to take the inheritance of Naboth (1 Kgs 21:1-16)” (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 192).
The first reading and the Gospel both see groups of men plotting against the poor and conspiring against the innocent. Micah says: “Woe to those who plan iniquity”; Matthew writes: “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death”.
Matthew identifies Jesus with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: Jesus is the Servant chosen by God. Jesus is the Son in whom the Father delights. Jesus is anointed by the Spirit of God at the Jordan. Through the Apostles, who continue Jesus’ mission, Jesus the Servant will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. Jesus is a light to the nations and extends God’s covenant to the Gentiles (see C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 167). Jesus accomplishes the Father’s will without fanfare: he flees to Egypt as a child, lives a simple life in Nazareth, calls fishermen to be his disciples, ministers in Galilee, enters Jerusalem on a donkey, is arrested in the garden and crucified with criminals. Jesus accomplishes his mission through patience, meekness and humility, not through frenetic activism, aggressive confrontation, and pride.
Jesus knew that his hour had not yet come and he chooses to withdraw from a confrontation with his enemies. The Pharisees have rejected both his divine power, manifested in his healings and exorcisms, and his divine authority, manifested in his teaching. The Gentiles will hope in his name: this line “hints at the theme of outsiders accepting Christ’s kingdom even though many in Israel, such as the Pharisees, reject it” (see C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 167). Even though Jesus withdraws, many follow him, for they recognize in Jesus the King who comes in meekness to save his people.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].