The Lord has just told the people that those who have been faithful to him shall be happy, those who have not shall suffer. Here he speaks of the new world he is preparing for the faithful. He is not creating a new physical world, but transforming the old. The disasters caused by an occupying army will be reversed. The disasters of infant illness and the weaknesses of old age will be reversed. Especially interesting to me is the line about God’s hearing and answering their prayers before they are spoken. God is no longer an external deity that one approaches with fear and trembling, but is a benevolent God within each of us.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
The meaning of our short reading is clear, so I shall speak to the images. Stubble is the mass of short stems of the wheat plant left in a field after the upper part is cut and taken away. Farmers often burn it off the field before planting again. The ovens of Malachi’s time were small portable fire pots used for baking. The winged sun is borrowed from Egyptian lore, where the image, a disk with wings, was thought to protect and bless those who come to it.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Paul seems to be having trouble with this community. He has a double problem. First off, his standards of moral behavior are those of the Jews. Jesus was a Jew. Paul was a Jew. But within that framework Paul, following what he takes to be the gospel, is trying to establish a pure communism where all all labor and all rewards of labor are held in common. But the members of the Thessalonian congregation were mostly Greek converts who had grown up in a rough world where one looked after himself and the Ten Commandments were not deeply engrained. There are no puzzles for us in the passages. I just draw attention to the words some modern communists have used to justify their beliefs: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”