In Micah 6:8, the prophet challenges us, “What does the Lord require of you? Surely it is to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Six years ago, my daughter – who is a professional midwife – was advised that her unborn child had a high risk of Down Syndrome and was advised to consider abortion. She struggled with this advice and in her prayers turned to this text. She and her husband decided to go ahead with the pregnancy and to face whatever consequences may lie ahead; acting justly, loving mercy and walking with God. As it turned out their son, who has been named Micah, was born without Down Syndrome.
I write this because we so often make our choices for our own personal benefit, rather than for justice, with mercy and in humility. It is a difficult balance and we often get it wrong.
Jesus set us an example of how to walk this balance. It did not mean that his view of equity for all made him a soft touch. Indeed not! He was angry at injustice, he rejected favouritism, and he overturned the tables of the crooked moneylenders. And yet he called a tax collector, loves sinners and forgave those who killed him.
And then there is the story of the woman who poured her precious perfume over his feet. Some have suggested that this woman (the Mary in John 12:3) is the same woman in Luke 7 who is described as living ‘a sinful life’ (Luke 7:37), and could possibly be the Mary of Magdala from whom ‘seven demons had come out’ (Luke 8:2). She is also mentioned in Matthew 26:6–13 and Mark 14:1–9. Although the event seems to take place in different homes and slightly different contexts, in each case, Jesus graciously receives this extravagant, and according to Judas, wasteful anointing.
The story speaks to me of Jesus’ acceptance, not only of her perfume, but also of her as a person. It might be that she was a run away from home in Bethany (where her brother Lazarus and sister Martha lived). She may have landed up in Migdal, a village on the busy road on the western shore of Galilee, where she might have earned her living as a prostitute. The alabaster jar may have been worn around her neck as a sign of her trade, and pouring out the perfume on Jesus’ feet was not only an anointing of her Lord, but also a surrender of her past life to him.
Here was a woman, mostly rejected by society, hurting in her being, scorned by the Pharisees, but accepted by Jesus, and she is made whole. She stays committed despite the apparent tragedy of his death; she is one of three women who remain at the cross, she is the first at the tomb and has the privilege of the first experience of our Lord’s resurrection.
Out of the love of Jesus, who shows us the way to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly, we see a woman wholly restored, respected and given a place of dignity. Surely, this is that path Jesus calls us to follow; the way of truth and life for those who have been beaten by the world and its machinations. He calls us to loosen the chains of injustice, to untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free.
He wants us to share our food with the hungry, to provide for those without shelter, and to clothe the naked. Then, he says, your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. And there will be equity for all.
I long for, pray for and work for this every single day.
Rev David de Kock, general secretary of the Uniting Church WA