Here’s the nugget we think we know, included in the lectionary lessons appointed to be read in a 3 year worship cycle. We hear it in Advent, and think that Malachi is predicting Jesus, a script to be repeated by John the Baptist. Perhaps, but it says so much more, and expands and clarifies the meaning and purpose, the person and work of Jesus if it is used to name one Messiah or another messenger.
God weeps and rages at the infidelity of the priests and the nation. They deny knowing what God is talking about. God is pretty blunt about ethical monotheism, not abstract speculation. Stop messing with refugees, widows and orphans, poor and vulnerable workers!
Now, in this year of Luke, revisit the prophetic accent of the early chapters of the third gospel. Try Matthew’s ‘fulfillment’ code of tying prophets to the gospel narrative. It makes more sense, informed by Malachi, and expressed in the events as re-presented by evangelists.
Then, set Jesus aside, and compare Malachi’s oracle to your own situation as a leader or participant in our religious community here, now. It stands just find on its own, eh?
Malachi 3 (NRSV)
1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight— indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;
3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
5 Then I will draw near to you for judgement; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.
6 For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.
7Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’
8 Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings!
9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me— the whole nation of you!
10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
11I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the LORD of hosts.
12Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
13 You have spoken harsh words against me, says the LORD. Yet you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’
14You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the LORD of hosts?
15Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.’
16 Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the LORD and thought on his name.
17They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them.
18Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
Malachi 4 (NRSV)
1 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
2But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall
3And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.
4 Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.
6He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.