“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” (Micah 6:8).
This verse is a popular verse among many who (rightly) desire to pursue the shalom of YHWH. I myself would place myself in this camp. More than that, I have often quoted this verse in defense of Christian activism and solidarity with the poor. But in reading Toxic Charity, author Bob Lupton brought to my attention something I had never realized before—a positive distinction between justice and mercy.
Lupton notes that to “Act justly” means to be “‘fair or reasonable, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made’” (41). As for loving mercy, Lupton nots that “Mercy is ‘compassion, kindness, or forgiveness shown especially to someone over whom a person has power’” (41). The reason Lupton emphasizes this distinction is because often times Christians do one without the other. To be specific, Christians put a major emphasis on mercy ministries (food pantries, soup kitchens, clothes closets, temporary shelters etc) which avoid addressing the root causes of homelessness, hunger, unemployment etc. In order for a church to play a crucial role in transforming a target area, they must be dedicated to marrying justice and mercy so as to embody what the prophet envisioned for the people of God.
What the marriage of justice and mercy ultimately renders is a community of people who engage in mutual undertakings. When Micah 6:8 is lived out, the urban neighborhood no longer maintains a parasitic relationship with the wealthy suburban church. Instead, effective partnerships are built on the principles of mercy and justice (106-107). All that to say, mutuality seems to be the perfect word to describe the coalescence of mercy and justice. It is in this mutuality that God’s people discover what is required of them.
Painting by Kathe Kollwitz, Solidarity, 1932.