The minor characters matter in stories seen on the stage and screen. In detective shows, you have to pay attention to the minor characters because one of them may be the criminal. In Disney movies and adapted plays, the minor character often performs one heroic act that turns the tide and saves the day. The major characters get the majority of the screen or stage time, but often the minor characters transform the story.
One such minor character in the biblical story is the prophet Malachi. Malachi is the last of the prophetic books in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). It seems like the series ends with a whimper—only fifty-five verses! The New Testament only references Malachi in two unique stories, and the lectionary of commended readings lists only two small sections, including this one today. A “minor” prophet indeed!
And yet Malachi contains a prophecy that neatly dovetails the story of the people of Israel with the future story of Jesus and John the Baptist. The prophet uses the image of a refiner’s fire that will burn away all the iniquities and sins of the community. Gold or silver cannot purify itself: It takes an extraordinary action beyond their ability to purify them. The anticipated action of God alone is what will save the Israelites from their impurity and return them to glory.
Malachi sits between the two Testaments, which describe the God to whom all are called; yet only God’s future action will save the people. What can that possibly mean to a nation surrounded by the Empire? Maybe this minor prophet matters more than we thought; this week we may discover what that message means for us.
Holy One, help us recognize the everyday people in our lives. Turn our attention away from our phones and toward one another, seeking transformation in the conversations. Amen.
The prophet Malachi speaks of a future day when God’s messenger will come to prepare the way for the Lord. The Lord will then purify the people and restore proper worship of God. Christians believe that John the Baptizer was this messenger, preparing the way for Christ. In Luke 1, the Holy Spirit fills Zechariah, John’s father, who proclaims that the fulfillment of God’s promises to their descendants has begun. Luke continues the story of John in chapter 3, describing John’s ministry of calling people to repentance. They need to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts, thus fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy. Paul in Philippians focuses not on the advent of Christ but on the ongoing power of Christ’s presence to make us blameless and righteous in God’s sight.
• Read Malachi 3:1-4. How have you experienced the refiner’s fire? What was your experience?
• Read Luke 1:68-79. At home and work, are you usually the first touch, the second touch, or the third touch? How so?
• Read Philippians 1:3-11. How could you make expressing your gratitude to others a habit?
• Read Luke 3:1-6. How are you preparing the way of the Lord? What crooked paths are you helping to make straight?
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