The carving out of the Malachi text is interesting. I wish the RCL committee had just included the whole fourth chapter of Malachi. It was only four more verses. Anyway, it would seem that the context of Malachi's prophecy helps us with this text. Malachi wrote after the second temple had been built, following the homecoming from exile. In a time that should have seen an outpouring of faith and sincere worship, Malachi sees Israel once again turning away from Adonai. In Understanding the Old Testament, Bernard Anderson writes,
[Malachi] accused them of dishonoring Yahweh by placing polluted food on the altar and by offering sacrificies -- blind, lame, sickly animals -- that would not have been accepted by their governor. The people were going through the motions of ritual but clearly they found the whole thing boring and wearisome... The priests were not guarding the true torah, men were divorcing their Jewish wives to marry foreign women, and social injustices abounded. (pp. 522-523)In a time that should have been getting better and better, people were becoming more and more disillusioned. Their worship suffered. They wandered, and they began mistreating their neighbors. Everything should be going better for them. But God doesn't seem to be paying off the way that they expected him to.
Sometimes I wonder if this isn't the same situation that the church faces now. The twentieth century was to be the Christian Century. If only we went to church, lived good lives, and did what we were told, things would only continue to get better and better, especially since most in America expected to be able do that more freely since they had thrown off the shackles of the terrible state churches that held much too much authority and power in the old country. But that positive outlook didn't last long. The World Wars and the Great Depression, helped lead to a realization that not much had changed. What good is God if his promises weren't going to be kept? It is the echo of Malachi 2:17, "Where is the God of justice?" People didn't (and don't) feel that there is any tangible benefit to being a Christian. Non-Christians could be just as succesful as Christians.
There doesn't seem to be any tangible benefit to marriage for Christians. The divorce rate is just as high as the rest of society. Neo-pagans can be just as succesful as Christians in the business world.
So now what? Now comes the apocalyptic texts. Normally, I talk about apocalyptic texts in terms of bringing hope to a community living through a crisis. But these texts also work to strip us of our notion that we might make things better on our own, by following certain proscribed routines or programs. When apocalyptic texts arise, we see communities that can't go down any further.
Apocalyptic texts speak to us to help reorient not just our behaviors, but our whole mode of thinking. We are not promised success in marriage or business if we are Christian. What we should strive for is success in our witness. And we don't witness to gain new members in our congregations. We witness because we know that ultimately everything is in God's hands, even if our witness should lead to martyrdom.
We remember that God is the one who will heal all of our brokeness. In fact, Malachi talks about the sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings. For us, the Church, we cannot help but see Jesus as our sun of righteousness. It is in the Church that we find that healing. We find it in the water of baptism. It is in the body and blood that we find healing and a glimpse of the age to come.