Luke 3: 10-18
10The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?”
11He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
12Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. 16John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
17His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
The Challenge of John the Baptist
Our gospel reading this Sunday is the response of John the Baptist to his own challenge addressed to the people when he declared, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (3:8). This challenge or change, is a contrast to the attitude to religious complacency of becoming self-justified because they have Abraham for their father, Yahweh as their God, and have the Torah in their favor. This religious confidence would surely not be enough to face the judgment seat of God. Thus, the need to show in their very own lives the faith they profess–“to bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
Four Forms of Bearing Fruit “Worthy of Repentance”
Our Sunday gospel depicts four forms of “bearing fruit worthy of repentance.”
First is the genuine charity and compassion to people in need and the marginalized. This is cast in the language of sharing the second cloak to those who do not have, and giving food to those who are greatly in need (cf. v. 11). The language of clothing and food points to the basic needs of human person. He who reaches out to those who are deprived of these basic needs by genuine charity, thoughtfulness, and goodness shows in his very own life a form of repentance. Today we realize that there is just so much need humanity has—the need to be listened to, the need of presence, the need for companionship, the need to be forgiven, the need for mercy and compassion. In whatever way a believer can extend a helping hand is a form of bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
Second is honesty and uprightness in dealing with people. Tax collectors have the privileged place of enriching themselves at the expense of others. They can collect more than they could if only to supplement exorbitantly their own earnings. John’s challenge is a call to sobriety, truthfulness, and honesty (cf. v.13). It is a call not to defraud others, not to make a source for ostentatious living the honest earning of others.
Third is service-oriented authority. Soldiers who have power and authority were addressed not to use such power and authority to extort people, or to give faulty accusations against people (cf. v. 14). This is the negative definition of what authority and power is about. In the life of Jesus, he has shown the true sense of authority and power. He cured the sick, the lepers he healed, those possessed by demons he gave freedom, He taught with authority the love, mercy, and compassion of the God especially for the marginalized and the oppressed. These are the real manifestations of authority. In truth authority makes only sense if it is directed for service for others. Jesus’ greatest manifestation of authority is the authority of the cross. It is a life giving sacrifice and service for humanity.
The fourth is condescending humility. It is not enough that John the Baptist demands authenticity only from people. He, as one of the esteemed preachers, has to show the way. This is showing “fruit worthy of repentance” by example. People could easily have mistook the messenger for the message, but this was not the case of John the Baptist—“one mightier than I am is coming, I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals” (v.16).
This condescending humility of John the Baptist is what galvanizes these other three forms of repentance and makes real sense to these values. Imagine charity and compassion without humility, or honesty and uprightness in business without humility, or authority and power without humility? All these mean nothing.
John the Baptist is presented to us this third Sunday of advent as the epitome of discipleship to follow and become like the child-King Jesus Christ.