Malachi 3.5, CEB: I will draw near to you [with justice]. I will be quick to testify against the sorcerers, the adulterers, those swearing falsely, against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages as well as oppress the widow and the orphan, and against those who brush aside the foreigner and do not revere me, says the LORD of heavenly forces.
I ran across this verse today while finishing up my studies for tomorrow's adult education class. What jumped off the page for me was the combination of the things God would judge. Other than the list itself, was the fleshing out of some of the complaints. I mean, we have "sorcerers" and "adulterers" given without really telling us what those things are. This leads me to see that perhaps it's we who have muddled those waters (although, I would like to have had "sorcerers" explained; I guess I'll have to do some digging on that word in the context of the Jewish Scriptures). But then the writers gets very specific about the other items. The seat of justice was not just against liars in general but against those who swore falsely. This seems a specific injustice. It seems to lead to a court system and sworn testimony.
Next we don't have the generic "cheaters" but those who specifically cheat "day laborers out of their wages" and "oppress the widow and orphan." Again, not a general ruling against cheaters but against those who take advantage of the "least among [us]." Furthermore, while this may be just the way I'm reading it, it seems an indictment against those who are already wealthy and have the power and resources to really make a difference in the lives of those people. However, selfishness and greed, like a dual-headed dragon, raises up and devours those in need all for the sake of more stuff.
Then we have a charge against those people who "brush aside the foreigner." What must be pointed out here is that "foreigner" is someone who is not a "legal citizen" of Israel. Some foreigners would even be considered illegal aliens, to use our understanding. I take this complaint to mean several things. First, it could easily be wrapped up in the previous accusation against the "cheaters." If an employer cheated a foreigner who was hired as a day laborer, to whom would the foreigner turn to set things right? But I think this accusation actually goes deeper than this. That is, this charge seems to be about the intent or the foundational feelings or understandings people have toward the "foreigner." They're "brushed aside" like garbage. Some see the "foreigner" as a leech sucking life from the nation; that they shouldn't even be allowed to be in the country, let alone recognized as a human being. This indictment comes really hard against the Jewish people of that time. Over and over again we have God telling them to be kind to foreigners because they, too, were foreigners when they were in Egypt and know how it feels to be "brushed aside" and disregarded as trash.
This verse, I think, says a lot about our country right now. It seems that some people, people with money and power, only care about themselves; like they got to where they are on their own merit. Hogwash! All of us had someone helping us along the way. All of us had people who taught us various things like reading, writing, responsibility, etc. Those things didn't just pop into our brains one day. It took others to lead us, teach us. Everyone who ever made something of their lives had help; they didn't do it on their own.
Now, granted, the actually work, they study and practice to read and write were accomplished individually. No one else can do those things for you. But, to hear some people talk about others, they seem to think that the others want people to do all the work for them. Rubbish! They want an opportunity to make something of their lives, too. They want to be treated fairly. They want to be treated with dignity and respect. God is saying that justice is determined by how we treat others.
Lastly, justice is also determined in how we treat God. This passage seems to flesh out the meaning of "Love God with all of your heart, with all your being, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself." To me, those two sentences are connected. That is, how we treat God is how we treat our neighbors; and how we treat our neighbors is how we treat God. The passage from Malachi shows us what that looks like in a very practical way.
This is how the Celtic Christians saw it. In the face of people was the face of God. With every new born babe, was a new expression of God coming into the world. They were not limited to just people, however. God was seen in all of life. Indeed, God was the Light and Life within all creation. May we capture this same was of seeing today! How different would our relationships be within our families, our communities, and nations, and with our planet. May we use this passage from Malachi as a guide into helping us "flesh out" the meaning of the Gospel today.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC