Recently in my readings, I met a guy named Micah (not the prophet). Micah is a really wise guy--well, wise by worldly standards. By God's standards he was pretty foolish. Micah's mom had 28 pounds of silver (13 kilograms), which Micah decided to steal to use no doubt for some creative business venture that would have doubled his profits in six weeks. But then Micah finds out that his mother has cursed the person who stole the silver. (I fully understand this reaction considering I sometimes desire to rain down curses on the people who steal my stapler off my desk at work.) Micah, not wanting to be cursed by his mom, confesses. Here's one of the loony parts of the story--Micah's mom then blesses her son and is so grateful that she commissions Micah to make an image overlaid with silver and gives it back to Micah. Now I'm all about parental forgiveness, Lord knows that I've needed it many times, but giving back what was stolen and having your son turn it into an idol doesn't go very far in teaching him any type of lesson for his bad behavior. Aesop would be ashamed of this mom for missing the chance to impart a moral at the end of the story.
The idol is crafted and becomes Micah's most valued household guide with its own shrine and priest and everything. In the end, the Danites (one of the tribes of Israel) stumble across Micah on their way to find a permanent settlement. They steal the idol and convince the priest to come with them and be a priest for a whole bunch of people rather than just one man. Ironic that what Micah originally stole was stolen from him along with his priest. That's one Aesop, zero Micah's mom, and -2 Micah. (You can check out the full story in Judges 17 & 18)
Now it would be the easy thing to say that the moral of the story is do not steal and that lesson is definitely in there, but I found Micah's story worth sharing for another reason. Micah and his mom choose to spend their silver on a very useless thing--an idol that can offer them no protection, cannot offer any sort of wisdom, cannot do anything besides maybe fall over and be stolen. (Both actions by the way require that some other force acts upon it; therefore, the idol truthfully cannot do anything on its own.) The idol is merely a possession that brought comfort to Micah--not that it could comfort Micah, but that Micah placed value in it and therefore found comfort.
It leads me to ponder how many useless things that I waste my silver on merely for comfort--the comfort found in owning and having material possessions surrounding you. Recently, with the help of the Lord, I conquered an addiction to buying DVDs. I literally had hundreds and watched about 20% of them (that number might be high, I may have chosen it to make me feel a little better about myself). Anytime I went to a place like Target, I was drawn to the DVD department. So many titles all under ten bucks. It can't hurt too much financially to buy a movie that "I really love" for less than ten bucks. Yes, but I have neighbors all over the world who are living on a $1 or $2 a day. And by the way, for $10 I could purchase a mosquito net and keep one of my neighbors from getting malaria. In fact, there are a lot of things that I could buy for $10 that would help one of my neighbors, locally and internationally.
I am struck as I think about Micah's story that the life Micah chose, the life I often choose, and the lives of majority of us in America look so radically different than the life that Jesus chose to live when He walked on earth. We like that Jesus hung out with the poor, and I know so many of us who do that very thing, following His example. But I think we like to skip over the fact that Jesus was poor. He didn't just feed the 5,000, he ate with them. Notice the disciples had to get the food from somebody else--they didn't have any food either. Jesus didn't own a home--He wasn't renting one either, but relying on the kindness of others. Jesus himself said that He had no place to lay His head. And when it came to the rich young ruler, Jesus told him there was only one thing that he lacked. (Can you imagine finding out there was only one thing that you lacked on the road to righteousness?! I bet the rich young ruler got pretty stinkin' excited at that statement, but wait for the whammy.) Jesus told him to go and sell everything he had and give it to the poor. (Matthew 19:16-30). Not the "one thing" he wanted to hear. Not the one thing that I really want to hear either, but I think that Jesus knows that material wealth gets in the way of a life lived out in the righteousness we are called to.
I'm still working out what this means for me and my journey. But I'm discovering that if I really desire to be a follower of Jesus, then things need to be merely things to me and self-denial really is a key to that kind of life ("deny yourself and pick up your cross" Luke 9:23-26). It's a hard lesson to learn in our consumeristic, self-ingratiating society, but I believe that it is absolutely essential to knowing and loving God as He desires to be known and loved.