“John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7 – 9)
From time to time I wonder about the vehemence in this passage of Luke. I know that John the Baptist was perceived as a roughly hewn evangelist who spoke directly and bluntly. From lowly peasant to mighty ruler, he was forthright with everyone. And maybe it was the times, and that the people were used to prophets who did not couch the message of the Almighty in gentle tones. In any case, he was very direct with his preaching.
“And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Verses 10 – 11)
While he might have been very direct in his preaching and teaching, he did preach a message of being compassionate and caring.
“Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” (Verses 12 – 13)
He also recognized that daintiness and finesse is often not possible in the real world. He was a realist and pragmatist who himself lived a coarse existence. Maybe that is while the people flocked to him, because he would guide them to live an accountable life while still coping with the reality of their situation.
“Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Verse 14)
He showed them how to live within the confines of what their position in society was. Often in Christianity we ask young converts to turn their lives upside down, and when they don’t/can’t we chastise them for not believing rightly or strongly enough. John met the people where they were in their present lives, and showed them how to move forward in faith.
“As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 15 – 17)
Now this is interesting – perhaps it was/will be only with the baptism of the Holy Spirit that upside down living can happen. Maybe, just maybe what we in our modern times take to be right authentic Christian living is only possible because the Holy Spirit is within and among us. I sometimes wonder how some people (not naming any names, or thinking of any particular people) can be so heedless of care and compassion. Having known from little on up what was expected in being a Christian, I never knew any other way to live and relate to people. Maybe the world needs more “John the Baptists” to preach the very first steps of faith to a world that comes from a very different background then mine.
“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” (Verse 18)
In this season of Advent may the good news be preached and told to you, and may the Divine lead you to a richer faith. Selah!