January: St. Malachi – Scare ’em straight
Saints with Funny Names
St. Malachi (Mal-a-kai) is a member of the minor prophets club of the Old Testament. Placed alongside Obadiah and Habakkuk, his name seems quite normal.
Before I get started, this Malachi is not to be confused with the 12th century Irish saint Malachy who is said to have made prophecies about the popes and the end times. Different saint. Different name. Different prophecies. Different era. Different turf. Different spelling. Different everything. So, don’t ask me: Is Francis the last of the popes and when he dies will we all look up and see the Second Coming? I have no clue.
This Malachi (feast day Jan. 3) lived about 400 years before Christ, right after the Babylonian Captivity, the time in which the Jews had been forced to leave Judah and go to live in pagan Babylon as captives. God was punishing his chosen people for their sins. Again. And as usual, they failed to appreciate it, responding a bit like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” Finally, when they were released and allowed to return home to Israel, they got lazy and started slacking off. Again!
The name Malachi is Hebrew for “messenger” or “angel”which is apt because Malachi was sort of God’s wingman. God’s message was: Tell the people of Israel how much I love them and how hurt and angry I am that they do not love me.
I love you, says the LORD; but you say, “How do you love us?” (Malachi 1:2)
Right away you see the problem. This sassy back talk runs throughout the entire book:
Malachi: You have wearied the LORD with your words.
Israel: “How have we wearied him?” (Malachi 2:17)
Malachi (speaking for God): You are robbing me!
Israel: “How have we robbed you?” (Malachi 3:8)
Malachi (speaking for God): Your words are too much for me.
Israel: “What have we spoken against you?” (Malachi 3:13)
All right, says Malachi. Let the scoldings begin! You priests, you’ve taken shortcuts in worship, offered unclean animals. You give God your throwaways and keep the best for yourselves. Do you actually think God is stupid and won’t notice? You lay people, stop holding back tithes. If you would show your trust in God with just 10 percent of your income, he would lavish you with his generosity. You men, quit divorcing your lawful Jewish wives and attempting marriage with pagans. Your wives were good enough for you when they were young and now you break covenant with them? Look how they cover the altar with their tears!
Blame it on Babylon. When you spend a couple of generations living with pagans, you are bound to pick up a few bad habits. It’s like the Irish saying: “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll rise up with fleas.” The Israelites had become just as worldly as their captors. Sure, they still kept their religious customs but not really to honor God. Nostalgia, maybe. Some of them made no secret of actually preferring Babylon to Israel. When they were finally allowed to go back to their homeland, they stayed behind on purpose. They were a lot like their forefathers who, after Moses set them free from slavery in Egypt, complained about the lack of steak houses in the desert. The ones who did return to Israel, took the spirit of Babylon with them.
So God sent Malachi to scare them straight. The prophet warned: God is not going to put up with this much longer! He shall purify the sons of Levi, the priests. He shall send his prophet, who will prepare the way of the Messiah, meaning St. John the Baptist. Finally, he will send the Messiah himself. Those who fear the Lord will rejoice at the day.
And you will go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 3:20)
The rest of you guys?
All the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. (Malachi 3:19)
Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Our Lord’s coming was, relative to the span of Jewish history, just around the corner. His brief book of prophecy is packed with all that will entail.
From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations [Gentiles in some translations]; Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering [oblation in some translations]. (Malachi 1:11)
The Gentiles shall make a pure oblation? This is a prophecy about the Sacrifice of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, offered everywhere in the world by all nations, at any time of the day.
The eastern calendar marks St. Malachi’s feast in early January, three days before the very event that he foretold, the Theophany, the revelation of Our Lord’s divinity through his Baptism at the hands of St. John. In the West, this is the Epiphany, the revelation of Our Lord to the Gentiles through the worship of the Magi. But the spiritual meanings are not much different.
As we commemorate the coming of the Messiah to Jews and Gentiles alike, we can ask ourselves: What kind of Christians are we? Do we worship in half measures, preferring our rituals out of a sense of nostalgia while our hearts are really consumed with the pursuits of the world? Have we grown indifferent to our loving God or maybe even resentful of his corrections?
Yet, the ultimate message of the prophet Malachi is that God loves us more than we can imagine and it is not too late to love him back.
They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my own special possession, on the day when I take action. And I will have compassion on them, as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. (Malachi 3:17)