He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
These words in the Hebrew scriptures, the prophetic work of Micah, offer a simple invitation to a life of peace, even if the word “peace” is not mentioned in the 30 or so words that make it up. Three words–often misunderstood–in those 30, however, do begin to define the House of Peace: Justice, Mercy and Humility.
These three key words are given in the image of how we walk through life. The first part of the invitation is to act justly on this walk. Frequently, and sadly, the word justice is used to mean getting revenge for a wrong. I have an illustration on the wall of my classroom illustrating the difference in equality and equity. When students see the difference, they immediately understand. Three boys are trying to see a ball game over a fence. They each have been given a crate to stand on. The problem is that each boy is a very different height so giving them each the same sized crate means that one can see well, one can see barely and one still can’t see at all. Justice is not revenge. Neither is it mere equal treatment. To act justly means to work so that everyone receives what they need to survive and thrive in life.
Mercy is one of those feel good words. It sounds nice and evokes warms feelings, but mercy is, like it or not, about politics. I have noted before, while we like to make politics out to be an evil thing, politics is nothing more or less than how we choose to use our power. We all engage in politics–even those who eschew politics. That is how they choose to use their power–by not participating in the electoral process. It’s still politics. What does that have to do with mercy? Mercy is always how we choose to use our power towards those who have less power than we do. Always. Micah urges us to love mercy. I understand this to mean that we walk this life journey always on the look out for ways to use our power in a beneficial way toward those who have less power than us. For me, that cannot be condescending or patronizing–but empowering. Real mercy is using my power to help those with less power in life gain more. If I choose an image, it’s the difference in tossing a coin to someone on the side of the road and finding a way to help them join me on the walk.
The third often misunderstood word, is often likened to self-debasement. This is never how the word should be understood in the Judeo-Christian traditions. Humility can be likened more appropriately to words like “grounded” and “centered.” Humility is the practice of knowing who you are, where you are, and what you bring to the table. To be dishonest about any of those is the opposite of humility whether you over or under estimate yourself. The House of Peace is built on our willingness to know where we are, who we are, and what we bring to any human endeavor. Nothing more. Nothing less.
These three elements make up “what is good.” To put another way, this is the “good life.” This is what we are calling a House of Peace. How we walk the walk helps build the house.