When I was a child my father would end the evening’s meal blessing with the following:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk with your God. (Micah 6:8, NRSV).
This what I heard every night until my father died. There was never anything said about the verse. For a number of years, I didn’t even know it came from Micah. It was just what my father said at the end of the blessing and that was that. Yet those words, said almost in a whisper, bored their way into my consciousness. Over the years it became kind of a mantra. Three simple steps for what was required of me. In time it also became the basis for a great deal of doubt in the people I believed to be faithful leaders in my church.
My family are members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), commonly identified as Disciples. We have been part of this denomination long before it became a denomination in 1962. One of the tenets is it is every person’s responsibility to read the scripture ourselves and determine our own understandings. That meant we were to question, doubt, and discuss scripture in a respectful way and to give all with a different understand their space to believe. However, it didn’t mean we were not supposed to evolve in our understanding. We were also responsible for determining the truth, using all the tools available to us. And this is where I really blossomed.
As a young woman I had already begun to doubt some of the long-held beliefs I was told as a child. Fortunately, my father had encouraged me to question those that held inflexible beliefs. My father wasn’t an educated person, he never made it past 6th grade as he was a coal miners’ son and put to work in the mines by the age of 10. But the one book he did read was the Bible and he developed a healthy, by today’s standard, questioning attitude of what he read. He never questioned the message but how the message was presented and accepted by those around him. I inherited his questioning mind about scripture and wanted to know what was really said in the first century. I wanted to know what Jesus really said and did, and I didn’t want someone telling me such knowledge was unimportant to my belief. I was already beginning to leave behind the idea of Christianity and starting to believe more in the deeds and words of Jesus as a true belief system.
By the time I was 25 or 30 I was reading the Hebrew Scriptures and becoming more interested in the beliefs that Jesus and his earliest disciples held. I couldn’t read Hebrew, but I did find English translations. I read books on theology and spirituality that gave me new ideas about what Jesus might have done and said. But it wasn’t until I entered the Seattle School of Theology and Ministry and became an associate of the Weststar Institute (home of the Jesus Seminar) did I really begin to understand what it meant to follow Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth.
Reading theology that used original material and researched the true history of the life of Jesus was inspirational and mind blowing for me. I learned that Christianity was an imperial Faith created by Constantine and maintained by Bishops who wanted power and money. They mythologized the resurrection in-order to develop a doctrine that would allow a small group of leaders to control and exploit the people they ruled. Because rulers were not to be held accountable, they used this new ‘religion’ to use the Jews as scapegoats for their failures. They used misinterpretations to demonize anyone different from them, creating slaves of indigenous peoples and Africans. They used misinterpretations to demonize women, many of which were held in slave like positions in the family or burnt at the stake as witches. They created systemic racism, and systemic gender bias simply to keep themselves in power. None of this would have been taught by the Carpenter from Nazareth. None of this is in keeping with Micah 6:8.
I do not know if Jesus ever read Micah, it is not mentioned anywhere in scripture, but his life followed those three important requirements: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Jesus taught and acted to right injustice. Jesus was kind, merciful and compassionate to the people who needed his help the most, yet he was kind to those who were rich as well. Jesus walked humbly and obediently with the God he loved. He knew that fighting injustice and caring for those the political system and religious order despised would cost him his life, he did it anyway. That is what I believe.
I must admit I don’t always succeed, but at least I am trying. John and I have taken into our home those who need us, and we have supported the poor and the hungry. We have been called foolish and innocents. Most of those we have helped moved on to better lives and we are happy for them. Sometimes the help is ignored, or people are unable to sustain themselves for whatever reason, that is life and while the help wasn’t accepted or selfishly grabbed it is ok. Maybe, just maybe, somewhere down the road in their lives they will remember and make changes. All we can do is hope.
So, who am I as a follower of Jesus, the Carpenter? I am someone who is trying my hardest to do and say what Jesus did and said: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Ruth Jewell, ©September 19, 2020
Image: Jesus Washing the Feet of Peter, by Ford Maddox Brown, 18520-1856