We have a nasty penchant for crudely drawing distinctions between sacred and secular, faith and works, redemption and justice. Themes, which naturally travel in pairs, ripped apart in the unfortunate result is the each loses its force.
The recipients of the prophet Malachi‘s brooding message, Judeans who had returned from exile to a partially restored homeland, had fallen into such a trap. Cynically content with their recent change of luck, they had adapted to a certain malaise, settling into a rhythm where God was given a cursory nod but relegated to the corner.
Gods people had abandon their center – God, and His covenant with them. The tragic fall out was how abandoning God led them to abandoning their unique role in the world in a kingdom of priests who mediated God’s grace and justice to and unrighteous society.
The same is true today; when we lose our sense of God, we lose our sense of our role in the world around us.
Malachi addresses this tragic abandonment by making somewhat of a surprising connection. Immediately preceding the most familiar portion of Malachi – his rebuke against the peoples practice of robbing God by refusing to bring the appropriate ties to the temple worship – Malachi rattles off and number of other common expressions of in against God’s people: those who oppress widows, lack love for the orphans and refuse proper justice for immigrants.
The message seems clear: there’s no distinction between abandoning justice and abandoning worship; they travel in pairs. In Malachi’s view, there is an inherent connection between robbing God and robbing widows.
The profits answer for their insincere worship was not only for them to bring in the tithe they owed, but to repent of their simple stance toward the less fortunate. Malachi’s posture highlights and other inconsistency in public displays or rituals of worship that have not taken root in our private life with our fellowman. We are urged not to leave our gold at the altar if we have left our neighbor hungry.
Malachi‘s words penetrate deep in a world bowing to idols of consumerism, individualism and capitalism. We construct our behemoth church campuses, insist on the latest SUV and consider it a major inconvenience that the local super Walmart isn’t open 24 hours. And millions are starving. And HIV ravages entire nations. And children are born into the world where “The American Dream” is their highest goal. Malachi must be heard again.
Read Malachi 3.
God, search my heart and reveal to me the ways I’ve lost my sense of You by not seeing the need of those around me. I confess that I’m often afraid or lazy. Open my eyes to the social injustices around me and direct me in how I can help.