Malachi 1:14b – 2:2b, 8 – 10
This Sunday, we will hear from the Book of the prophet Malachi. The last time we heard from Malachi was on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time last year (in fact, it’s only these two Sundays that we hear from this prophet), so let’s look at its origin. The work itself has no dates to give an indication of when it was written or what period of time is being addressed. Since it addresses abuses that Ezra (priest from Babylon who returned to Jerusalem in 458BC and began a reform movement) and Nehemiah (Hebrew captive who returned as leader of his people to rebuild Jerusalem 445 – 433BC) corrected, however, it is generally thought to represent the preaching of a prophet just before their time, that is, around 460BC. The name, – מלאכי – found in 3:1 (“my messenger”), is probably an abbreviation of the word – מלאכייא – “messenger of Yahweh.” He is strong in his criticism of both mixed marriages and a lax priesthood. It is again clear that this reading was selected to complement the gospel reading this Sunday, which also condemns the priests of Jesus’ time.
14 (Cursed is the deceiver, who has in his flock a male, but under his vow sacrifices to the LORD a gelding😉 For a great King am I, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
Gelding: a castrated animal, explicitly forbidden in Lv. 22:24.
1 And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen,
2 And if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse.
(Yes, I have already cursed it, because you do not lay it to heart.
3 Lo, I will deprive you of the shoulder and I will strew dung in your faces, The dung of your feasts, and you will be carried off with it.
I will deprive you of the shoulder: this part of a sacrificial animal, allotted by the law (Deut 18:3) to the priests, will be withheld from them.
4 Then you will know that I sent you this commandment because I have a covenant with Levi, says the LORD of hosts.
5 My covenant with him was one of life and peace; fear I put in him, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name.
6 True doctrine was in his mouth, and no dishonesty was found upon his lips; He walked with me in integrity and in uprightness, and turned many away from evil.
7 For the lips of the priest are to keep knowledge, and instruction is to be sought from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
8 But you have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; You have made void the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts.
9 I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, Since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions.
10 Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with each other, violating the covenant of our fathers?
violating the covenant: Intermarriage of Israelites with foreigners was forbidden according to Deut 7:1-4. After the exile this law was strictly enforced (Ezra 9-10). Foreign marriages are here portrayed as a violation of the covenant (Malachi 2:10), which made the sacrifices offered by the offenders unacceptable to God (Malachi 2:13). They were all the more reprehensible when accompanied by the divorce of Israelite wives (Malachi 2:14-16). This gradual return to the primitive ideal of the indissolubility of marriage was fully realized in New Testament times through the teaching of Christ; cf. Matthew 19:3-12.
Matthew 23: 1 – 12
This week, we continue to hear from Matthew’s Gospel, with the chapter that is filled with invectives (violent condemnation) against the scribes and Pharisees. Like the tension-filled conversations of the previous two chapters, this is a Matthean construction that serves both as a conclusion for these conversations and an introduction to the eschatological discourse that begins at 23:36. It is a much-expanded version of Mk 12:37b – 40. This final section of the narrative part of the fifth book of the gospel is a denunciation by Jesus of the scribes and the Pharisees (see the note on Matthew 3:7). It depends in part on Mark and Q (cf Mark 12:38-39; Luke 11:37-52; 13:34-35), but in the main it is peculiar to Matthew. (For the reasons against considering this extensive body of sayings-material either as one of the structural discourses of this gospel or as part of the one that follows in Matthew 24-25, see the note on Matthew 19:1-23:39.) While the tradition of a deep opposition between Jesus and the Pharisees is well founded, this speech reflects an opposition that goes beyond that of Jesus’ ministry and must be seen as expressing the bitter conflict between Pharisaic Judaism and the church of Matthew at the time when the gospel was composed. The complaint often made that the speech ignores the positive qualities of Pharisaism and of its better representatives is true, but the complaint overlooks the circumstances that gave rise to the invective. Nor is the speech purely anti-Pharisaic. The evangelist discerns in his church many of the same faults that he finds in its opponents and warns his fellow Christians to look to their own conduct and attitudes.
1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples,
2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Have taken their seat . . . Moses: it is uncertain whether this is simply a metaphor for Mosaic teaching authority or refers to an actual chair on which the teacher sat. It has been proven that there was a seat so designated in synagogues of a later period than that of this gospel.
3 Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.
Do and observe . . . they tell you: You will recall that Mt. 5:17-20 makes it clear that Jesus is not abolishing the law and the prophets, but offers a fuller understanding of them. But, let’s look at the footnote for 23:2-3, which states: “since the Matthean Jesus abrogates Mosaic law (Matthew 5:31-42), warns his disciples against the teaching of the Pharisees (Matthew 14:1-12), and, in this speech, denounces the Pharisees as blind guides in respect to their teaching on oaths (Matthew 16-22), this commandment to observe all things whatsoever they (the scribes and Pharisees) tell you cannot be taken as the evangelist’s understanding of the proper standard of conduct for his church. The saying may reflect a period when the Matthean community was largely Jewish Christian and was still seeking to avoid a complete break with the synagogue. Matthew has incorporated this traditional material into the speech in accordance with his view of the course of salvation history, in which he portrays the time of Jesus’ ministry as marked by the fidelity to the law, although with significant pointers to the new situation that would exist after his death and resurrection (see the note on Matthew 5:17-20). The crowds and the disciples (Matthew 23:1) are exhorted not to follow the example of the Jewish leaders, whose deeds do not conform to their teaching (Matthew 23:3).
4 They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.
Tie up heavy burdens: see the note on Matthew 11:28.
5 All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels: To the charge of preaching but not practicing (Matthew 23:3), Jesus adds that of acting in order to earn praise. The disciples have already been warned against this same fault (see the note on Matthew 6:1-18).
Phylacteries: the Mosaic law required that during prayer small boxes containing parchments on which verses of scripture, especially Ex 13:1 – 16; Dt. 6:4 – 9, 11:13-21, were written be worn on the left forearm and the forehead (see Exodus 13:9,16; Deut 6:8; 11:18), symbolically keeping the law ever before them.
Tassels: on the four corners of the cloak tassels were to be worn in observance of Nm 15:38 – 39 as reminders of the law; see the note on Matthew 9:20. The widening of phylacteries and the lengthening of tassels were for the purpose of making these evidences of piety more noticeable.
6 They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
7 greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
Salutation: Near Eastern courtesy demanded that the length of the salutation be in proportion to the dignity of the person, so the greeting was a status symbol.
“Rabbi’: literally, “my great one,” a title of respect for teachers and leaders. Interestingly, the Aramaic title, Rabbi (master) title is found only in the New Testament writings during this time. It appears in postbibilical Judaism, so it might have been coming into use just at this time. This term, or its Greek equivalent, is often used by those who address Jesus in the Gospels.
8 As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
These verses, warning against the use of various titles, are addressed to the disciples alone. While only the title “Rabbi’ has been said to be used in addressing the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:7), the implication is that Father and “Master’ also were. The prohibition of these titles to the disciples suggests that their use was present in Matthew’s church. The Matthean Jesus forbids not only the titles but the spirit of superiority and pride that is shown by their acceptance. Whoever exalts . . . will be exalted: cf Luke 14:11.
9 Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.
Father: the title “father” is not found in Jewish literature in application to either scribes or Pharisees, but it might have been used as a title of honor.
10 Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah.
11 The greatest among you must be your servant.
12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Whoever exalts himself: this phrase is used twice by Luke in two different contexts (14:11, 18:14).
These last verses (8 – 12) echo the theme found in 18:1 – 5 and 20:23 – 28 and appear to be a digression from the invective against the scribes and Pharisees.
1 Thessalonians 2:7b – 9, 13
We hear again from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul arrived in Thessalonica in 50AD. Despite his short stay in Thessalonica, the Christian community thrived and retained a very cordial relationship with Paul. We will continue to hear from this letter for the next several weeks.
7 (although we were able to impose our weight as apostles of Christ.) Rather, we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
Gentle: many excellent manuscripts read “infants” (nepioi), but “gentle” (epioi) better suits the context here.
8 With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.
our very selves: the Apostle’s love is even more self-sacrificing than that of a nursing mother
9 You recall, brothers, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
Working night and day: Paul was a tentmaker (cf. Act 18:3).
(10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.
11 As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his children,
12 exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you conduct yourselves as worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
13 And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.
The author Patricia Cornwell once wrote, “I believe the root of all evil is power.” We see this so clearly in this Sunday’s readings. In the first reading, we hear Malachi condemn the priests of his time who were using their power to live well, even to the point of breaking God’s covenant for their own purposes. In the Gospel, we hear Jesus instructing his followers to “do whatever the scribes and the Pharisees teach you…but do not do what they do.” Why? “For they preach but do not practice.”
In contrast to this misuse of power, we hear Jesus offer an opposing truth: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” It’s easy for us to look down at the scribes and Pharisees but we need to remember that we hear these readings so that we can learn from them ourselves. As a priest – one called to serve you and all of this wonderful community – I take this message to heart and try, every day, to be your servant. But, it’s a good moment for all of us to reflect on how we are serving one another. Let’s be servants to one another; that’s how we become great in God’s eyes.