Thursday of Week 27 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Malachi 3:13-20

We just have one reading from this book and it comes from the final verses of the last chapter. The Jerusalem Bible entitles the passage: “The triumph of the upright on the Day of Yahweh”. Yahweh is complaining that some of his people are saying harsh things about him. They are complaining:

What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts?

The salvation they have been longing for is not being realised. They feel depressed like mourners in sackcloth and ashes.

On the contrary, it is the proud and arrogant who seem to be the happy ones; those who practise immorality are the ones who prosper and do well out of life. They constantly challenge God’s laws with their behaviour but nothing ever happens to them. What is the point, then, in trying to live a good life?

However, there were some God-fearing people, those who did not give way to doubt and cynicism, who got together in fellowship and gave each other mutual encouragement. They drew up a “book of remembrance” in the Lord’s presence in which were recorded the good deeds “of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name”. This book was analogous to the records of notable deeds kept by earthly rulers. In this way, they kept their faith and confidence in Yahweh.

By doing this they could clearly see the difference between the genuinely good person and the wicked one, between the one who served God and the one who did not.

Then comes the prophet’s warning from Yahweh:

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven…

Fire, smoke and cloud were traditionally a feature of the coming of the Lord. We saw it when Moses and the Israelites were at Sinai. And Isaiah says, for example:

See, the name of the Lord comes from far away,
his anger burning and his burden heavy;
his lips are full of indignation,
and his tongue is like a devouring fire.
(Is 30:27)

That will be the day when the proud and the arrogant and those who do evil will be set afire and destroyed root and branch. Speaking about the work of Jesus, John the Baptist told the crowds who came to the Jordan:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matt 3:12)

On the other hand, for those who have remained faithful, even through those days when evil seemed to prosper, for those who feared the Lord’s name:

But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

The “sun of righteousness” implies power and triumph. Isaiah compared God and his glory with the sun (see Is 60:1,19).

The title “Sun of Righteousness”, applied to Christ, has had its influence on the liturgy of Christmas and the Epiphany. Luke speaks of Christ as the “rising sun” from heaven in Zechariah’s hymn known to us as the Benedictus, which is recited every day in the Church’s Divine Office. Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, will prepare the way as:

…the dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

Yes, the Light that is Christ has brought healing and wholeness into so many lives. Let us open ourselves to that healing and wholeness also.

However, times and people do not change very much and what Malachi says is still true in our own time. We, too, can be so easily tempted to go the way of those who seek the good life and get carried away by the materialism, consumerism and hedonism that washes over us day after day. We, too, can pay lip service to the call of our faith and just go through the motions of “religious observance”. Let us eat, drink and be merry for as long as we can and then, when the end seems to be on the horizon, we can straighten things out with God.

It is not a very wise way of dealing with a God who can come “like a thief in the night”. It is not a very enlightened choice. On the other hand, once we really enter into the Way of Christ we will find that it is there we find our deepest needs satisfied. Let us ask God to open our eyes to the true spirit of Jesus’ Gospel and make it the driving force of our lives.

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