Malachi 3:19 – 20a
As we come to the end of the liturgical year – next Sunday is already the last Sunday of the Year when we celebrate the feast of Christ the King – we are given an opportunity to reflect on the end of time. All three readings speak of the end of the world and the final judgment. This is a good time for us to reflect on how prepared we are for the coming of the Lord.
This Sunday, we will first hear from the Book of the Prophet Malachi. Again, the passage was clearly chosen to prepare us for the Gospel. Let’s talk about this book since it’s been a long time that we have seen a passage from it. The author is unknown; he uses a pseudonym – מלאכי – which means “my messenger,” aware that his message contained sharp reproaches against the priests and rulers of the people. Although the work contains no dates, most scholars agree that it was written around 460BC because it condemns the matters that Ezra and Nehemiah were to correct. It must have been written after 515BC because the temple has already been rebuilt (cf. 1:10, 3:1, 10).
Malachi rails against several evils prevalent during his time:
- The men were divorcing “the wives of their youth” and marrying foreigners (2:11-14);
- The wealthy were cheating the poor (3:5);
- The priests were offering unacceptable sacrifices (1:7 – 8, 13);
- The priests were insincere in their ministry (2:1 – 3).
He then calls for:
- fidelity to the covenant and one another (2:10, 15) – Malachi is, perhaps, best known for his strong condemnation of divorce (2:16);
- a pure offering offered by all people (1:11).
He prophecies that:
- the Lord will be gloriously present in their midst (3:1 – 2);
- the Lord will bring judgement (3:5, 19); and
- like “the sun of justice,” the Lord will grant “its healing rays” so the failthful will “gambol like calves out of the stall.” (3:20)
The work can be divided into six oracles:
- First Oracle: God’s Special Love for Israel (1:2 – 5).
- Second Oracle: The Sins of the Priests (1:6 – 2:9).
- Third Oracle: Against Divorce and Mixed Marriages (2:10 – 16).
- Fourth Oracle: Yahweh, God of Justice (2:17 – 3:5).
- Fifth Oracle: Ritual Offenses (3:6 – 12).
- Sixth Oracle: Triumph of the Just (3:13 – 21).
The final version is the result of many redactions. It is thought that the original prophet may have edited it himself – or someone else who added 3:22 – before Ezra’s reforms. At first, these writings were attached to the prophecy of Zechariah. When it became a separate writing, the introductory verse was enlarged, attributing the prophecy to “the messenger of the Lord.” It wasn’t until much later, however, that this title became the prophet’s name: “Malachi.” The only place in the entire OT that Malachi is used as a proper name is here.
To set it in its proper context, let’s read our first reading within its entire oracle: 3:13 – 21.
19 For lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, And the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts.
20 But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays; And you will gambol like calves out of the stall
As is almost always the case, this first reading prepares us for the gospel.
Luke 21:5 – 19
This week, we continue to hear from Luke’s Gospel, picking up shortly after where we left off last week. As you will read in the footnote for this section, Jesus’ eschatological discourse in Luke is inspired by Mark 13 but Luke has made some significant alterations to the words of Jesus found there. Luke maintains, though in a modified form, the belief in the early expectation of the end of the age (see Luke 21:27,28,31,32,36), but, by focusing attention throughout the gospel on the importance of the day-to-day following of Jesus and by reinterpreting the meaning of some of the signs of the end from Mark 13 he has come to terms with what seemed to the early Christian community to be a delay of the parousia. Mark, for example, described the desecration of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans (Mark 13:14) as the apocalyptic symbol (see Daniel 9:27; 12:11) accompanying the end of the age and the coming of the Son of Man. Luke (Luke 21:20-24, probably referring to the time -167 – 164BC – when Antiochus Epiphanes ordered sacrifices to be offered to Zeus on the high altar in the Jerusalem temple), however, removes the apocalyptic setting and separates the historical destruction of Jerusalem from the signs of the coming of the Son of Man by a period that he refers to as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). See also the notes on Matthew 24:1-36 and Mark 13:1-37. It’s important to remember that all of these so-called predictions we see in Luke had already occurred. By the time this gospel was written – sometime between 80 and 90AD – the temple had been destroyed (70AD); not one stone was left upon another. The temple liturgy was also gone; only synagogues survived as places of prayer. In fact, it was in the synagogues that the first followers of Jesus tried to preach in his name the good news of salvation. And, for their efforts, they were expelled from the synagogues. Many would have been handed over to civil authorities and put to death at the hand of Nero in the 60’s and Domitian in the 80’s. In the midst of their struggles, imposters were purporting to be the messiah, whose return in glory they were awaiting. Each, in turn, was proven to be false, leading some of Jesus’ followers to wonder if and when he would ever return. So, Luke reminds his readers of the promise of Jesus that was ever-present. Let’s see all of this in Sunday’s reading.
5 While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said,
6 “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
7 Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
8 He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them!
The time has come: in Lk, the proclamation of the imminent end of the age has itself become a false teaching.
9 When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”
such things must happen first: Luke adds this to Mark’s presentation to indicate that there will be a time of crisis before the end.
10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
11 There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues: these are standard biblical expressions for great sorrows, to be taken symbolically.
12 “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.
Before all this happens . . . : to Luke and his community, some of the signs of the end just described (Luke 21:10-11) still lie in the future. Now in dealing with the persecution of the disciples (Luke 21:12-19) and the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20-24) Luke is pointing to eschatological signs that have already been fulfilled. Luke makes it clear that the parousia is still distant; persecution must come first.
13 It will lead to your giving testimony.
14 Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
to prepare your defense: literally, “not to meditate beforehand.” This refers to actors who practice their gestures or rehearse a dance. Christians are not to be stage actors.
15 for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
A wisdom in speaking: literally, “a mouth and wisdom.”
16 You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.
17 You will be hated by all because of my name,
18 but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
not a hair on your head will be destroyed: this is an assurance of the resurrection of the body, which sustains the martyrs. Recall Daniel 3:93ff.
19 By your perseverance you will secure your lives.
Perseverance: Luke’s constant theme of carrying the cross daily is evident here.
2 Thessalonians 3:7 – 12
We hear again from the second letter to the Thessalonians, this week from almost the last verses of the letter. As we await the end of time, we are called to conduct ourselves properly, working quietly until the Lord comes.
7 For you know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you,
8 nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.
9 Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.
10 In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.
11 We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
12 Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.
Remember that, earlier in this letter, the author refers to the persecution that the believers had endured (1:4,6) as well as to the wicked and evil people from whom believers must be protected (3:2-3). With trouble enough threatening the community from without, the ancient author was trying to quell whatever difficulties might arise from within the congregation.
Some of those difficulties stemmed from a misinterpretation of the end times by those who asserted that the suffering of the community was a sign that the end was near. This led some to take an early retirement, causing the community to be further burdened by the idleness of some of its members. Additionally, some, in their idleness, had become armchair critics who preferred to focus on the shortcomings of others rather than the coming of the Lord.
To correct these false ideas and behaviors, the author offers himself as an example. Even though he could be expected to be supported by those to whom he proclaimed the gospel, Paul insisted on paying his own way as a tentmaker. The advice is good for us, too. The end will come but, in the meantime, we should be busy about building up his kingdom rather than being busybodies meddling in the affairs of others.