Uniform 07.05.2015: The Stranger Among Us

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Micah 2:4-11

You are sitting with your friends, getting ready for Bible study. It’s a weekly event that you all look forward to—good company along with spiritual growth as you learn about God together. A visitor walks in. He’s young, well kept, and alert. He smiles and sits among you because, like always, you welcome the stranger. What are you feeling?

Does this scenario change for you depending on the race of the stranger? How would you feel if a light-skinned visitor entered a Bible study of light-skinned people? If he joined a dark-skinned group? What about a dark-skinned visitor joining a light-skinned group? Depending on your race, where you live, your prejudices, and other factors, any of these scenarios may affect you differently.

If you are aware of current events in America, however, it’s almost certain that you are thinking about this scenario differently today than you would have a couple of weeks ago. Before June 17, when a young white man shot and killed nine black Bible study participants at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, you might have felt joy, pride, and compassion toward any visitor. Regardless of whether he looked different from the rest of you, he was new and unexpected and exciting. And so you would have welcomed him. That’s what Christ calls us to do (Mt 25:35).

But after the stranger murdered nine of the people who had welcomed him warmly to their Bible study, the scenario described above is different. Welcoming the stranger is not only dangerous; it’s deadly. And there is more to this scenario because it is so racially charged.

Bill Saunders, 80-year-old Charleston resident and founder of the Committee On Better Racial Assurance, carries painful memories of words said and actions committed against him because of his skin color. The hardest part, he says, is “that we have not come anywhere. …One of the things I wanted all my life is to be a man, not a black man, but a man. There’s no way I can ever be a man in Charleston, South Carolina. I will always be a boy to the system. I really wanted to die free. But that’s not going to happen in my lifetime.”

As we continue through our units on God’s justice, the issue of racial equality is ever before us. Micah is God’s voice to confront those who abuse and oppress other people—who take their land, lie to them, and trample their identity. “But you rise up against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war” (Mic 2:8). Those in power cause great suffering for the innocent, and Micah insists that God will bring justice.

This is not merely something that happened centuries ago in dusty biblical villages. It’s happening today, in our time, inside our schools and offices—even in our churches. The first step in overcoming injustice is discovering how we are part of it.

Source: Catherine E. Schoichet, “Charleston Shooting Reopens Unhealed Wounds,” CNN, 21 June 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/21/us/charleston-shooting-race-wounds-exposed/ (accessed 23 June 2015).

Discussion

1. Have you ever welcomed a stranger into your Sunday school, Bible study, or worship service? If so, what was that like?
2. Has a person of a different race or ethnicity attended your church? How was that person treated? Conversely, have you ever attended a church that was mostly composed of people of a different race? If so, what was that like for you?
3. Depending on your age, you may have lived through desegregation, or you may have learned about it from others. Considering what you know about the way African Americans were treated in twentieth-century America, what do you think of Bill Saunders’s statement that we have made little progress at mending race relations?
4. What do you think God meant in Micah 2:8? How could this verse apply to Dylann Roof, the young man who committed the recent murders at the Charleston church?
5. Injustice thrives, even in First World nations like the United States. Where do you see injustice in your community? What are some ways that you might be taking part in it (even unintentionally)? How can you become a better advocate for those who suffer injustice?

Reference Shelf

With the disputation of Micah 2:6-11, one must pay careful attention to the multiple speakers in the formal structure of the passage, since the change of speakers is not always clearly marked (see in Hos 10:3). This unit begins with a plural, negative command, “do not preach,” introducing the speech of the group to whom the previous unit was addressed. The prophet speaks again in 2:7, confronting his opponents with a series of rhetorical questions. In 2:8-9, the prophet accuses this group of crimes, while 2:10-11 commands people to flee in the face of coming judgment, though the prophet holds little hope that the majority of the people will listen to this message.

Micah 2:6 introduces another quote, this time for those whom the prophet confronts. This tactic represents a common device in a disputation speech where the prophet articulates the objections of those to whom he addresses the message (see Mal 1:2). The extent of the quote is debated, though most think it stops at the end of 2:6. In either case, the message is clear: the patience of YHWH has ended. Judgment is at hand.

The prophetic speaker thus admonishes his hearers with a series of rhetorical questions characterizing the preceding judgment speech (2:1-5) as helpful words to the righteous. Hence, for those “walking uprightly,” the words of the prophet offer consolation. The prophet portrays society in two groups: those who devise wickedness (2:1) and those who walk uprightly (2:7b). This language of confrontation permeates Scripture. Psalm 1 divides the world similarly, and the end of the Book of the Twelve draws a distinction between “those who fear YHWH” (Mal 3:13) and the “arrogant and all the evildoers” (Mal 4:1 [MT 3:19]).

Reference

James D. Nogalski, Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011) 538-539.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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