Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Agnus Dei, by Francisco de Zurbarán, c.1636, housed in Museo del Prado, Madrid
Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.
— Malachi 1:7-8
Malachi may be the name of an actual person, or may simply mean 'my messenger' or 'his messenger'. Either way, these are the words of the last recorded Old Testament prophet, written between 440 and 410 BC.
The Book of Malachi was written to correct the lax religious and social behaviour of the Israelites—particularly the priests—in post-exilic Jerusalem. Although the prophets urged the people of Judah and Israel to see their exile as punishment for failing to uphold their covenant with God, it was not long after they had been restored to the land and to Temple worship that the people's commitment to their God began, once again, to wane. It was in this context that the prophet commonly referred to as Malachi delivered his prophecy.1
According to the laws expressed in Leviticus, God required sacrifices to be unblemished.2 Why would this matter? It matters because finding such an animal was difficult. Keeping the animal pristine probably more difficult still. To seek out and protect an animal for sacrifice would take commitment, focus and effort. It is this, more than the animal itself, that mattered. One way to stray from God is to stop caring, to become lax in our work, in our relationships, to take one another (and God) for granted. We are lazy by nature, always seeking shortcuts, and easier. softer ways. Ritual and ceremony have developed over the years to counter that very human tendency. Ritual keeps us on our toes, has us pay attention, stay awake, care.
Once freed from exile, having prayed for freedom, and made all kinds of promises to God in exchange for their release, it wasn't long before the people fell back into their old ways, priests and citizens alike again lost sight of the bigger picture, prioritising self over God. Malachi calls them out on this. Would your earthly masters accept such shoddy treatment? I don't think so. Pause, reflect, says Malachi, And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us. Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, does what all previous prophets had done: call people back to the path.
Today, with so many rejecting God and turning to self-worship, we are in need of a prophet. It seems we have forgotten what good means, how to be kind and compassionate, how to listen to people not like us. Acronym and meme wars on twitter and facebook have exploded beyond all reason. We are a lost people, whose so-called leaders are equally lost: the blind leading the blind. And much of it comes from seeking self-satisfaction through no effort. We gamble in the expectation of a big win, and while waiting we insult all those not like us, almost as sport, wallowing in anger, indignation and unfulfilled entitlement. We are a lost people in need of a prophet—or perhaps we could recycle the prophets of old, listen again to Malachi, to Amos, to Zecariah, to Isaiah. We don't need to be Jewish, Christian or any other formal religion to learn from the great wisdom contained in the scriptures. All we need is an open mind, and open heart. And perhaps before that, a mirror.
1 Book of Malachi, wikipedia.org
2 Leviticus 22:17-31