7-9 When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
10 The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
11 “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”
12 Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”
14 Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”
15 The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”
16-17 But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
18-20 There was a lot more of this—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message! But Herod, the ruler, stung by John’s rebuke in the matter of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, capped his long string of evil deeds with this outrage: He put John in jail. (Luke 3:7-18 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)
Brood of snakes? Really? That’s how he grew his ministry, by calling people snakes and vipers?
John wouldn’t last ten minutes in the 21st century.
Or would he?
His words are speaking to me right now.
Did you notice the question each group asked was, “What should we do?” They made no excuses for their career choices. The tax collectors and soldiers who received a paycheck with the Emperor’s signature on it made no attempt to justify their situation. “How can we possibly bear fruit when we work in such a difficult environment?” is a question not voiced.
What should we do? John provides practical, doable advice: 1) remain in their jobs and do it better and 2) be model fruit bearers by dropping the bully tactics.
Eliab, the tax collector, and his wife left the Jordan that afternoon deep in conversation about John’s proclamation. By the time they arrived home Mrs. Eliab announced that the new kitchen he has promised her seemed empty of joy. They agreed to no more extortion. Eliab would do his job fairly and equitably. Mrs. Eliab was considering ways to help out some neighbors out who were close to losing their property.
Julius Maximus was a Roman soldier who was good at his job. He could march 20 miles a day in full armor and help set up camp in the evening without breaking a sweat. He was a strong and talented member of Rome’s elite army. Many years after he heard John’s words, his reputation had become one of being fair to Jews. The Roman command knew him to be able to keep peace in any city they posted him in. The reason: he treated them well and commanded respect by his actions. He rose in rank quickly in the Roman army.
Bloom where you are planted. Bloom and bear fruit right where you are. We don’t have to give everything up and move to a convent or a monastery. Few of us are called out of our lives to serve in other places. We can make the biggest difference in the place where we know the most about the situation and the job description.
I suspect that most of you, dear readers, are doing just that. You’re treating those who cross your path with respect. Bullying isn’t in your DNA and power plays aren’t necessary. You navigate your world with confidence, earning respect and doing the right thing daily. I trust that you share your extra coats and food with those in need. And you probably write checks to charities and the church.
In this season of Advent I have challenged us to think about our lives and our spiritual needs for this new year we’ve entered. In addition to shopping and parties, what are you hungry for? In this season of high expectations, what do you anticipate that matters the most to you? What do you hope for?
In this season of Advent, we greet the Christ child again. Will we greet him again as if it’s the very first time? Or is his arrival the same as in years past with little to speak for himself? Will we allow the child to point out our favoritism and collusion in the world? Do we have the courage to listen to and study his words in order to hear his call to generous and just living?
That’s my resolution. What’s yours?
All glory and honor be to God.