For a stalk to grow or a flower to open there must be time that cannot be forced; nine months must go by for the birth of a human child; to write a book or compose music often years must be dedicated to patient research ...To find the mystery there must be patience, interior purification, silence, waiting.... - Pope John Paul II: (born Karol Józef Wojtyła was Pope from 1978 to 2005. He is widely known to Catholics as Saint John Paul the Great,)
Scripture Text: (MAL 3:1-4)
Thus says the Lord God:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
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.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner's fire,
or like the fuller's lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.
First, let’s ask the question “What does ‘refining’ mean”? The Old Testament prophets often use words of judgement against God’s people. When we hear them, it sometimes sounds as if God’s aim is not to help his people but to smash and destroy them! That’s why this image of refining that Malachi uses here is so helpful. A refiner is attempting to purify molten metal from all its dross in order to create an object of beauty and strength – perhaps a silver cup. In Malachi’s time this would be accomplished by putting the unrefined metal into a pot or furnace and heating it up until all the dirt and impurities were burnt out of it. And there’s another lovely little detail here. A number of Bible scholars say that the refiner would know that the process was complete when the molten metal was so clear that he could see his own face reflected in it.
This illustration of refining provides a very helpful picture for us of the ongoing process of purification in our lives as Christians. The General Confession in the old Book of Common Prayer says, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”. In other words, God’s work of change in us will have both negative and positive aspects. Negatively, the refiner will be trying to remove our impurities – the ‘things we ought not to have done’. Positively, God will be trying to form the image of Jesus in us – Jesus who shows us by his way of life ‘the things we ought to have done’.