Year C: Third Sunday of Advent
Although John was preaching in the wilderness, news of his teaching spread far and wide and many people sought him out. Their first question was: what does repentance mean in practice? Johnís advice is simple and practical - live charitably and honestly.
Luke, however, adds two details which would have alerted his readers to the fact that this message was not just for the righteous - but for those on the margins - those whom the respectable folk would see as sinners.
The first are tax collectors - figures of hatred at the time John was preaching. In the first place, they collected tax on behalf of the occupying Roman forces - and, also, were notorious for creaming off a little extra for themselves. John does not tell them to give up their work - but to do it honestly and fairly.
The next group mentioned by name are soldiers. He does not specify whether Jewish or Roman but the latter is the more likely. Again, John dies not condemn their work or insist that they give it up in order to be baptised. Rather, he says that they must conduct themselves honourably and not abuse the position of power in which they find themselves.
This drawing in of those on the margins led people to wonder if this was the one who was to proclaim salvation to the whole world - but John knew other. He was the messenger sent to prepare the world - not to save it. He was sent to begin gathering the harvest - but the one to come will winnow it and separate grain from chaff, determining who will enter the Kingdom and who will not.
The grain is what has the capacity to bear fruit - the chaff will blow away - or be burnt in the fire. Those who repent and live according the to the directives John lays down have the capacity to bear fruit in their own spheres. A tax-collector who does not cheat - or a soldier who does not extort will soon be marked out as different. They may suffer ridicule and be tempted by the siren voices: everyone does it. But, holding firm to their principles, will set an example of living which will influence others: what is that these people have that causes them to behave like this?
In our own day - and in our own work, the challenge remains the same: do we act as grain - or chaff?
What does it mean for me?
Text © 2006 WellspringWeekly Wellsprings ]