Summary: Every Day is a Day of the Lord, a judgment day; Christians are to be always aware that the Lord is watching and remain ready for the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, God will protect and aid us in suffering.
Malachi 3__13 to 4__6 Proper 28C THE DAY OF THE LORD
Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
The Old Testament lesson brings once again to our attention a familiar theme in the Bible. Why does the righteous suffer?
More than 1000 and perhaps nearly 1500 years had passed from the time God Almighty
called Moses from his role as shepherd to go to Egypt and lead the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob out of Egypt. Abraham and his descendants had a personal relationship with God. They spoke with him as a familiar friend, calling on him as a child petitions a father when he is fearful or in trouble.
This nation received the Law of the Lord, and from time to time wrote down accounts of their dealings with him. So it was in today’s reading from Malachi. Malachi was written at some time near 400 years before the birth of our Lord, about 2400 years ago. Secular history can be matched with events referred to in Nehemiah 13:10-29 and with the Book of Malachi. The calamity referred to in Malachi 1:2-5 really happened . The Edomites, a nation related to the Jews, was expelled from their land by the Nabataean Arabs. Nehemiah became governor of Judea in 44BC, giving us an approximate date for these events.
Ninety years had passed since a small group of Jews had returned from Babylon with the high hopes expressed in Isaiah 40ff. Jeremiah 23:5-6 records the faith the of the Jews that the glory days would return as in the time of King David. It was thought the land would become miraculously fruitful (Ezekiel 34:26-30 and Isaiah 41:18-19). The heady view was that all nations would come and serve them (Isaiah 49:22-23), There are communities of Jews that still look forward to such a King, such a Messiah who will set up offices in Jerusalem and rule the world in righteousness.
The reality of life for the small remnant of Jews that returned from Babylon was very different from the Messianic expectation. They became rulers by the grace of the Persian empire, of only a small district, not much larger than Jerusalem. The land was rocky and not at all fertile. The energy of the people required to eke out a living from the arid land was such that reconstruction of the walls to protect City of Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the temple was not accomplished until 90 years had passed. The rains failed on occasion (Haggai on 1:10-11), followed by famine (Malachi 3:10).
The question came. Why, Lord? We trusted you. We left Babylon and came back to the Holy Land, the Holy place. We were promised a return to national glory. We have put away the idols and the evils of Egypt and Babylon. Where are you? “What is the good of keeping the Lord’s rules or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? Evil- doers not only prosper but thy put God to the test and they escape. Why?”
It had become unpopular to be a prophet in Israel-Judah. The school of the prophets founded by Elijah had fallen into disrepute and were on the verge of disappearing.
Zechariah 13:2-5 and Psalm 74:9) A spirit of rationalism, akin to that of the last 2 centuries in Western Europe and the United States had come into that society and a prophet could not gain an audience by merely saying, “Thus says the Lord.”
There were objections. “If the Lord loves us, why does he not show it?” If he is good and righteous why are not the rewards of life more equitably distributed?” All of this sounds familiar to us, does it not?
Malachi’s answer is the old and still true, orthodox answer of retribution. Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Psalm 37 and the speeches of the “friends of Job” found in the Book of Job give the formula: “You suffer because you have been bad.” Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people. Or, as we say today, “He brought it on himself.” “As a man sows, so shall he also reap.”
Malachi repeated that teaching, ”when the people repent, the rains will come to the arid, famine stricken land.” There will be showers of blessings. (Malachi 3:10)
Agricultural people in this country for over a century sang a Gospel Song,
“Showers of blessings.” This song was especially meaningful when they felt the pinch of a bad crop year. Showers of blessings, showers of blessings we need. Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.” City folks cannot feel the depth of emotion country people felt as they lifted their eyes to God and sang that song.
Malachi was pressed for an answer to the Why question regarding Jewish poverty, subservience to a foreign ruler and sense of distance from God. Malachi answered not only were they reaping what they had sown, but also they had demonstrated an indifference toward God by deliberately offering the worst animal in the flock on God’s altar. Their hearts were simply not right. Also, they had sinned against their brothers by social immorality (Malachi 3:5). Therefore Malachi’s first answer to “Why,” was the orthodox one: “You have brought it on yourselves, repent!”