This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of “The Presentation of the Lord.” We commemorate the event when Jesus is brought into the Temple in Jerusalem for his dedication to the Lord God, and meets the priest, Simeon. The priest of the Old Covenant meets the priest of the New Covenant and recognizes that his time has come to depart and leave the way open for Jesus to inaugurate the New Covenant, by the offering of himself, the Lamb of God, on the altar of the cross.
The first reading today comes from the prophet Malachi. His name in Hebrew means “my messenger” and is the actual word in the Hebrew text here in Malachi 3:1. It is believed to be a pseudonym rather than the author’s real name. The work was composed as a reproach against the priests and rulers of the Jewish people for their poor leadership around 445 B.C. during the period of restoration following the Babylonian captivity (587 B.C. to 517 B.C.).
Malachi refers to a “refining” process that the people of Israel, especially the priests, will have to undergo when the Messiah, “the Messenger of the Covenant” comes to His temple. In the refining process, metals are subjected to high temperatures which burns off or separates out the impurities. Malachi asserts that the sons of Levi, the Jewish priestly class, needed refining before their sacrifice would be pure and pleasing to God. It is understandable that the author would want to protect himself from repercussions from the priests and rulers whom he reproached for abuses and religious indifference, and prefer to remain anonymous and, therefore, write under a pseudonym.
Malachi’s writings helped set the stage for the religious renewal and reconstruction of the temple which would take place a few years later under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, and pointed to a new age of renewal, a time to be ushered in by the return of the prophet Elijah, interpreted by Christians as being fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. Because of this connection to John the Baptist, the book of Malachi is placed in the bible as the last book of the Old Testament.