The Old Testament lectionary reading today was from Malachi 3 and the responsorial Psalm was Psalm 1. When you read these two passages together, there is an amazing contrast and I wonder if it was purposeful. First, read Psalm 1 (NAB):
- Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, Nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.
- Rather, the law of the LORD is their joy; God’s law they study day and night.
- They are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers.
- But not the wicked! They are like chaff driven by the wind.
- Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment, nor will sinners in the assembly of the just.
- The LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
Next, read what those who displease YHWH are saying in Malachi 3 (though it seems these words are obviously being placed in their mouths):
You have said, “It is vain to serve God, and what do we profit by keeping his command, And going about in penitential dress in awe of the LORD of hosts? Rather must we call the proud blessed; for indeed evildoers prosper, and even tempt God with impunity.”
The complaint being placed in their mouths is basically that texts like Psalm 1 do not appear to be true. In Psalm 1, the righteous man prospers in whatever he does and the wicked man is ruined. But, the people have noticed that often righteous men do not profit in whatever they do and wicked men get ahead in life being left unpunished. Thus, they go ahead and “call the proud blessed.”
The prophet then proceeds to tell them that this is not the proper attitude to take, though he appears assume that there conclusions about their life situation (i.e. that the wicked prosper and the righteous do not) are correct. The promises of texts like Psalm 1 are shifted to the future. There is going to be a future day when YHWH “takes action” (Malachi 3.17). There is going to be a future day when the distinction between the righteous and the wicked becomes clear again (Malachi 3.18). A considerable number of centuries later we still pay heed to this advice. Righteousness and wickedness seem to have little to do with who prospers in this life. Sometimes righteous people do and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes wicked people do and sometimes they don’t. But, it is important to approach this situation with a proper attitude. Just because wicked people get ahead doesn’t mean that we call evil good.