Then I said:
“Listen, leaders of Jacob, leaders of Israel:
Don’t you know anything of justice?
Haters of good, lovers of evil:
Isn’t justice in your job description?
But you skin my people alive.
You rip the meat off their bones.
You break up the bones, chop the meat,
and throw it in a pot for cannibal stew.”
The time’s coming, though, when these same leaders
will cry out for help to God, but he won’t listen.
He’ll turn his face the other way
because of their history of evil. (The Message)
The prophet Micah wasn’t speaking to the general population; he was specifically addressing leaders. Those in authority – whether religious, political, educational, or corporate – can be sometimes rather hard on the people they lead. Yet, most things rise or fall because of leadership, and not because of the people being led.
It’s one thing to be a Pastor and preach an angry sermon; a politician who spins the truth for their own advantage; a teacher who one day berates the students; or a boss who uncharitably chastises an employee; and it’s quite another thing for these behaviors to be habitual. A daily dose of leaders who view people as dumb sheep to fleece are eventually in for big trouble… from God!
Most leaders ascended to their position because they know what’s up and how to go about their business. They know the difference between right and wrong. But instead of viewing themselves as servants to the people, some leaders believe the people ought to be serving them. This sort of attitude comes out in snarky phrases, such as:
- “If these idiots would only listen to me, and do what I tell them, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
- “How many times do I have to repeat myself!?”
- “Excuses, excuses. That’s all I hear. They’re nothing but a bunch of lazy ungrateful people!”
- “Leave your problems at home where they belong. We don’t talk about that stuff here!”
- “What makes you think you can talk to me that way!?”
- “It’s out of my hands. Not my responsibility.”
- “It wasn’t like this in my generation. These young people just don’t want to do anything that’s hard. Back in my day I had to….”
The real problem, however, are the leaders themselves; they haven’t gotten out their own way to let the justice of God flow powerfully in them and through them to the benefit of everyone.
Having a leader who is attentive to basic human kindness, generous with words, and concerned for all under their authority is like a kiss on the lips. But a leader who only thinks of themselves is like a bad dream that won’t go away.
A society cannot survive without justice, that is, a concern for the common good of all persons – and coupled with systemic practices which reinforce that basic conviction. Some leaders have good hearts but bad organizational systems. Other leaders administrate well but have a hard time relating to people. We need both for justice to occur.
Once leaders get in a groove of justice, society flourishes. Yet, leaders need to be continually vigilant; their leadership can easily devolve into struggles to obtain and maintain power so that they can feel important and in control of things.
The Old Testament prophets, like Micah, used imaginative metaphors to make their case that injustice needed to be done away with. And they nearly always laid the burden of change on leaders. Leadership is meant to make things right, not wrong, and to help a group of people become better, not worse.
Justice is in every leader’s job description. It’s written on both the conscience and the heart in permanent marker.
When things go sideways, godly leaders first look at themselves, rather than reflexively blaming others. Typically, there is plenty of guilt to go around; yet the leader needs to bear the onus of the problem and begin addressing it by first looking within themselves.
It’s a leader’s responsibility to ensure that justice and freedom are established – and that there are no obstacles to all the people living successfully. Leaders are to be learners so that they may do good and create systems of good for everyone.
Stop doing wrong
and learn to live right.
See that justice is done.
Defend widows and orphans
and help the oppressed. (Isaiah 1:16-17, CEV)
Those who held authority in Micah’s day had gotten drunk on power and privilege; they openly used their authority to consume the poor and needy. Rather than empowering the underprivileged, the leaders snatched what little autonomy and resources the people possessed.
The good news is that there is a greater power operative in the universe than earthly leaders. A hard life caused by insensitive leadership will eventually give way to the Lord’s gracious and benevolent reign over all the earth.
Until that time comes, we are to grow as leaders by seeking to be true and genuine servants.
Politicians are to pursue public service without prejudice and with a keen eye toward all classes of people;
Educators are to commit themselves to ensuring that learning happens with a variety of approaches, all pillowed with loving support;
Employers are to provide whatever is needed to make their employees successful at their jobs, including a safe and caring environment;
Religious leaders are to offer spiritual care and not spiritual judgment to all within their bounds of responsibility.
We all lead other people, whether or not we have the title or position as a leader. Therefore, we all must seek not to be served but to serve others. This is the way of justice and righteousness.
Gracious God and Leader of all: Help us to embrace the challenge and responsibility we have as leaders
to guide us to lead with integrity and common sense. Give us the wisdom to make intelligent decisions; the courage to make tough decisions; and the character to make right decisions. Embolden us to always be welcoming, inclusive, and open because of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.