Advent: a time when we are RE-MINDed – 3rd Sunday in Advent – Luke 3:10-18
Last Sunday, John the Baptist was given an office in the wilderness and a mission that was seemingly impossible considering that many ‘illustrious’ persons were mentioned in the Gospel were overlooked for the mission. Emperors and chief priests were not found worthy to bear the message that a simple desert prophet was. Considering that John was a nothing from nowhere one would exercise caution when approaching such a daunting task and yet John seems to be very brazen in his approach.
Verses 7 -9 which are not part of our Gospel text gives us an insight into John’s rather radical approach. Most preachers begin their homily asking for the help of God. We say, “ may almighty God bless our hearts and our lips so that we may worthily proclaim his holy Gospel.” John began name calling his congregation. He called them ‘a brood of vipers’; the most deadliest and venomous snake in the Judean desert. No matter how grave the sin of the congregation, I most certainly would not be that brazen to call you that. Yet, John’s unusual homiletic style brought him rich dividends.
There is only one reason why a preacher can call out the sins of his congregation in such a harsh manner and still get away with it; John’s congregation knew the reputation of the preacher. They knew that his authentic life permitted him to so confidently call out their sins. Here in lies a lesson for the Christian; preacher and congregant. An authentic Christian life permits us to speak boldly rather than find comfort in shadowy conversations and veiled messages.
John is emphatic; one must bear fruits worthy of repentance. This message is responded to by three groups of people, the crowds, tax collectors and soldiers all asking the same question. First, repentance or metanoia (in Greek)is not about feeling sorry for oneself or ones action. The Greek work metanoia is a call to change ones way of thinking. Repentance is not about a temporary rearrangement of a life situation necessitated by some life intervention but a new approach to Christian life.
Repentance here is also not just (or perhaps even primarily) about the dialectic of faith and sin; rather it is about how we are living out the love of our neighbour. The crowds, tax collectors and soldiers all want to know, ‘what should we do?’ That is a question we should ask ourselves each day. What should I do to change the way I think towards an errant brother or sister? It is safe to assume that most people desire to live more faithfully but they do not know how. Perhaps they are overwhelmed or frightened and have nowhere else to turn. It is for this reason that in response to the peoples’ question, John speaks directly to temptations inherent to each group—particularly that of grasping after “more” at the expense of others (a temptation that is familiar enough today). He admonishes the crowds to share resources. As for the tax-collectors, don’t be greedy. Soldiers, don’t abuse power. The command is absolute: some people in your community don’t have enough to survive, so if you have anything at all, share it.
As we prepare for this holy feast of Christmas let our lives be seen in the fruit of repentance we bear. The season is a personal call to radical transformation in the manner of our life and the way it is lived in the community.
Fr Warner D’souza