Walk

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, 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 has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6 | ESV)

Don’t miss it. The key word in these familiar verses is not what you might expect. The defining centerpiece is the Hebrew verb yalak, translated as “walk.” It simply means “to go, proceed, depart.” In some instances it means “to carry.” It is a common verb occurring quite often in the Old Testament (1046 times in 938 verses). Walking with someone speaks of comfortable fellowship. When used more metaphorically, it can mean “to go along with” implying intercourse, agreement and acceptance. One does not walk with another except by agreement or command is the idea. Regardless, the critical image is one of ordinary routine. Note that walking never implies sporadic harried urgency. Walking connotes routine rather than reaction. That distinction is vital if we are to properly interpret and implement what the prophet Micah declares. Justice is a matter of course for those walking humbly with God. In other words, justice is an enduring mindset that cannot not be expressed with corresponding consistent action; it is anything but hypocritical knee jerk with accompanying bombasts and pride prompted gesticulation that smacks more of back patting than justice seeking. The distinction is profound, yet well meaning folks, secular organizations, and even religious entities fall into this well laid trap that springs on those who ignore justice until it is en vogue. Popular justice is rarely just, but magnifies what is at stake. When we fail to advocate for and practice justice as an expression of the imago dei, justice retreats into nothing more than a fad that whips into a frenzy for a time and then dissipates into distant memory. Beware of those who speak loudest in a moral crisis if they act and speak differently than they did before the crisis. Such rhetoric reeks with the stench of hypocrisy. They have taken a decisive step toward manipulating “justice” for public approval. Until we move beyond such theatrics, we will never resolve injustice. Unstoppable Justice flows from a heart that walks with the Father, because it would be unthinkable to do any other.

Nearly 20 years ago I was invited to present the chapel address at Wiley College in recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The message (available in the college library archives) was entitled “A Mighty Long Journey: Moving from Civil Rights to Civil Charity.” Allow me to share an excerpt from the introduction:

“The theme for today’s Chapel here at Wiley College has been announced as—“Living as One in a Pluralistic World.” I definitely agree that this is a worthy goal; a definite ideal to which to aspire. My deep conviction, however, is that this will remain an illusive goal for the world until a particular group within the world begins to live according to that ideal. The particular group to which I am referring is the Christian Church, the Body of Christ on this earth…. To ignore this problem is to fail in our witness, and to imply the impracticality and impotence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To fail to do so is to forfeit any real relevance to the issues at hand and any prophetic instruction on how to truly love one another.

I learned an African-American prayer chant while I served as pastor of a multi-racial congregation in Houston:

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way—

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way… 

It may indeed be a mighty long journey, but I want to challenge us as Christ-followers today to begin the journey of moving from civil rights to civil charity. You see, there’s a huge difference between doing something because it’s right and doing it out of genuine love for someone else.”

Justice seeking is, by definition, a long and endless journey that we are expected to walk everyday. It cannot lower its gaze from what God intends. It will not bow to wisps of protest or temporary theatrics. It will be on our minds and in our actions at all times, because to be and do otherwise is to deny the validity of the Christ-life.

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way—

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way.

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