Our journey through the minor prophets ends with Malachi. Malachi prophesied 400 years before Christ. He spoke to the people who had returned from exile and rebuilt Jerusalem. According to Malachi and the book of Nehemiah, things were not going great for those who had returned. The righteous commitment had faded. The same self-destructive habits and unhealthy patterns of behavior had set in. There was abuse of power within the leadership, wholesale dismissal of God’s laws which promoted justice and equality, and worship had become an afterthought.
As you might imagine, the book of Malachi gets a little testy.
The book is structured by several arguments. Most of the arguments begin with God calling out the people for not living in justice and righteousness with God or others. One of the arguments begins with the people accusing God of dropping the ball.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘Where is the God of justice?’”
At first glance this may seem like a blunt, spontaneous, outcry akin to what we see in the bold prayers of the Psalms. However, with a moment’s pause the dark humor in the accusation arises. They accuse God of not being just or not caring about justice when they themselves are perpetrators of injustice. It is the reverse of “be the change you want to see in the world.” It is “accuse someone else of the very thing you are doing.” Are they trying to gaslight God?
While reflecting on this I was reminded of an article in the National Geographic, Why Thousands are Demanding Racial Justice. In the article, a white couple from Neil Gladstein, 59, and Lynn Rhinehardt, 58 from Maryland are pictured holding signs that read, “We the People Demand Justice” and “Black Lives Matter.” When asked about their involvement, Rhinehardt said, “We want to be part of changing our country so it’s a more just and fair place for all people. Especially, right now, for black people.”
Gladstein and Rhinehardt had taken the maxim, “be the change you want to see in the world” to the next level. As white people, they do not experience racism in our country in the same way that black and brown people do. Yet they appear to have broadened they gaze enough to see a much-needed change. And the good news is they are not alone. Recently, the New York Times shared the sharp statistical uptick in understanding and support of the Black Lives Matter movement. People of various racial identities, ages, and political affiliations are seeing needs beyond their personal experience.
The blind spot of the “be the change you want to see in the world” slogan is that it solely relies on the individual’s perspective. Each of us are often blind to our own bias and unaware of our privilege. It is a possibility, if not a certainty, that we are clueless about a particular change that needs to happen in the world because we happen to benefit in some way from that particular status quo. If we are to “be the change we want to see…” then we need to do a lot more observing of the oppressed, a lot more listening to the stories of marginalized, and a lot more learning about the systemic injustices of our world.
At the end of the book of Malachi, the same group who have oppressed others again wonder, with accusation, if God is just and if there is any benefit to serving God.
The story says that God does not answer. Instead, another group of people, a people who revered the Lord, gets together and begins to talk story. It says they begin to recount all of the ways God has delivered and saved them in the past. They pour over their memories and begin to write down these stories, stories from their recent history and stories from ancient history. Justice is rooted in history. Together, they create a testimony of what God has done. And the scripture says that God just listened.
May we too be a people who listen to the stories of others and a people who proclaim with our actions the faithfulness and justice of God.
To learn more about Malachi, check out: https://bibleproject.com/explore/malachi/