Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Ink and watercolour by Monica Welch
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
— Micah 6:6-8
Religion is bloated faith. Amos1, Micah and Jesus2 (among others) all speak strongly against the trappings of religion, the facade that appears to be the thing itself, but is nothing more than showiness. God does not need murdered animals, human sacrifice, self-flagellation, wasted food or excess of any kind. In a society where people are in need such excess is indeed the opposite of piety, it is the sinful trashing of God's gifts to all, selfish, thoughtless and wasteful.
Over the centuries the worship of God took on more and more showmanship. The priests and Levites, with little else to do but serve God created an excess of rules, laws, rituals and habits that they and others were expected to follow. Much of this behaviour is encoded in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, books written just prior to, or during the Babylonian exile, and not, as their placing in the Torah would suggest, during the time of Moses. Both Amos and Micah were thus railing against this move towards ritual and ceremonial sacrifice some time before it became encoded, or perhaps in parallel. Micah intuitively knew that such a show of worship masked a lack of true faith, and denied the reality of oppression.
How should we worship then? Only like this, says Micah, in one of the Bible's best-loved verses: with justice, mercy and humility.
Today we live complicated, bloated lives, focussed greatly on acquisition and accumulation, our homes packed full of possessions, our very persons bedecked with jewellery, designer clothes, and electronics. It is easy to forget how little we actually need to lead a good life. It is equally easy to forget how to behave towards others with love, justice, mercy while we covet what they have, and cling on tightly to what we have. Hoarding is now recognised as mental illness, so we'd do well to pay attention. Happily we still have the tradition of spring cleaning, where we remove excess, and some of us strip back to basics. The less we have, the more we can be.
1 e.g. I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. — Amos 5:21-22
2 e.g. He answered and said unto them, 'Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.' — Mark 7:6