by Father Mike Stubbs
Georges Sand was a woman. So was George Elliot. But those were not their real names.
Occasionally, an author will publish under a pen name, for various reasons. Years ago, when patriarchal society disapproved of women authors, a pen name enabled a woman to conceal her identity. That is the case here.
The author of the Book of the Prophet Malachi, which gives us Sunday’s first reading, Mal 3:1-4, probably was not really named Malachi either. The Hebrew word means “my messenger.” It describes the role that the author was fulfilling — namely, God’s messenger. It also helps to conceal his identity.
The word “malachi” appears several times in the Hebrew text. We translate it as “my messenger,” but it is also the pen name of the author.
“Lo, I am sending my messenger (Malachi) to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.”
Why did the author wish to conceal his identity?
The Book of Malachi strongly criticizes the priests in charge of the temple in Jerusalem and other persons of authority in Israel. The author wished to remain anonymous in order to protect himself from reprisals by them.
Malachi is prophesying that God is preparing to enter into the Temple, in order to set it straight and cleanse it of the impurities that the current rulers have allowed.
Centuries later, Christians would interpret Malachi’s prophecy to refer to the coming of the Messiah. Specifically, the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple would fulfill the words of the prophecy: “And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.” That explains the choice of this text for Sunday’s first reading, when we celebrate the feast of the presentation of the Lord.
Similarly, Christian interpretation identified the messenger in the text as John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Messiah. His fire and brimstone preaching reflects the style of the messenger in the Book of Malachi.
John the Baptist serves as a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He closely resembles the prophets of the Old Testament, while announcing the arrival of the Messiah.
Appropriately, the Christian arrangement of the books of the Old Testament places the Book of Malachi at the end, right before the New Testament.
In that way, the Book of Malachi, with the messenger whom we identify with John the Baptist, immediately precedes John’s appearance in the Gospels. He is preparing the way for the Messiah, to enter into his Temple.