Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent.
John the Baptist was not a diplomat! In this week’s Gospel, he calls the crowds coming to him for baptism a brood of vipers, poisonous snakes, and urges them to repent. Rather than claim favoured spiritual ancestry because of their links to Abraham, John tells them that they can’t avoid their own accountability for their relationship with God and must bear good fruit before it is too late. When asked how they should do this, John speaks of practical responses and urges the crowds around him to share their possessions of clothing and food with those who have none. The tax collectors also present are warned to be honest in their financial dealings and collect no more than they should. The same applies to the soldiers – probably Herod’s troops rather than Roman soldiers – who are told not to be violent or lie and to be content with their wages rather than use this as an excuse to abuse others. John tells his hearers that they should remain where they are rather than leave their homes or work but change their ways to show that they are serious about responding to God’s call in their lives and caring for their neighbour.
Luke states that multitudes are coming to John for baptism and many people are beginning to wonder if he is the Christ. Rather than be flattered by this, John insists that he is just a voice crying in the wilderness, doing what he can to prepare the way for the one who is to come. His call to the crowds then is still echoed today as we also face ongoing questions of leadership, officialdom and the abuse of power by officials, scammers, the military – or ourselves.
Perhaps, like the crowds then, we have also made excuses about our religious heritage, used it judgementally in a pluralistic world or become complacent about the spiritual fruit of our lives. For all of us, there are places in our lives where spiritual mountains and valleys, peaks and troughs need attention as we consider what has become blocked or emptied during our way through life. If we really are to get things straightened out, Advent is a good time to consider the things we sometimes prefer to avoid and the demands made of us. It’s hard: John’s ministry led to his own imprisonment and death for exposing the sins of Herod the tetrarch but his call to repentance still echoes to those who will heed it. His words remind us that we, too, will be held accountable for how we live out our faith, care for our neighbour and prepare the way for God’s purposes, now as then. That can be both daunting and wonder-full!
With my prayers; pob bendith,