First Reading: Malachi 1:14b-2b, 8-10

The Question of the Minimum

14 "The deceiver is cursed, who has in his flock a male, and vows, and sacrifices to YHWH a blemished thing; for I am a great King," says YHWH of Armies, "and my name is awesome among the nations."

1 "Now, you priests, this commandment is for you. 2 If you will not listen, and if you will not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name," says YHWH of Armies, "then will I send the curse on you, and I will curse your blessings.

8 But you have turned aside out of the way. You have caused many to stumble in the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says YHWH of Armies. 9 "Therefore I have also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according to the way you have not kept my ways, but have had respect for persons in the law. 10 Don't we all have one father? Hasn't one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?"

World English Bible

Have you ever been in a spiritual rut? What happened?

When is religious practice good enough? This is a practical question that has no real answer. For, when we ask the question, we place faith into another compartment of our lives. And implicitly, we place ourselves above God., since God is just Lord of Sunday or prayer time. Not Lord of all.

In the early fifth century, B.C., the anonymous author of Malachi opened up salvos against the priests in the Temple, the civic leaders of Jerusalem and keepers of the faith. A mere two generations after the return of the Babylonian exiles and the re-dedication of the Temple, the spirituality of the local populace was in a rut. And the priests of the Temple led worship by rote. Both parties reduced faith to ritual and lip service. Both placed God outside the heart, into the arena of social necessity.

Why did this lack of faith exist? The second generation removed from the Return began to intermarry with pagans. With the intermarriage came the temptation to worship other gods and partake in other cultures. The strength of the faith was being diluted. And there was a danger that God's people would melt away into oblivion. Without strong leadership from the Temple, the cult of YHWH would become a mere footnote in history.

The author of Malachi (which means "messenger" in Hebrew) gave the Temple leaders a message from God. Lead or lose your position! Remember your responsibilities, not the perks of your office. Return to a faith of the heart or, on the Day of the Lord, face his wrath.

When is religious practice good enough? Obviously this is the wrong question. The right one is simple: Lord, how can I serve you and your people?

How have you served God and his people lately? What are the practical limits of that service? Who set those limits, you or God? Explain.