Luke 3:7-18

Advent 3C
December 13, 2015

JohntheBA Reflection

Imagine the scene: morning service at St Dithering’s, Lower Waffle. “Welcome, dearly beloved. You’re all bunch of hypocritical snakes.”

OK, ummn, interesting tactic. Has the Rev been at the communion wine a little early?

It gets worse.

“So you’ve been at St Dithering’s for forty years, man and boy? Don’t care. There are drunks down the Red Lion closer to God than you!”

I say, steady on there, Vicar!

Amazingly, when John the Methodi … sorry … Baptist said this, no-one threatened to punch him on the hooter, (this may have had something to do with him looking like the 1st century equivalent of Chewbacca the Wookie). Instead they asked what they needed to do to show they really were genuine.

At first reading, John’s answers look reassuringly mild. Give away a spare shirt, put the odd tin of soup in the food bank, and just do your job fairly. Oh, that’s not too bad. No wonder people’s hopes began to rise. This was an easy salvation!

But let’s just have a look at what John said through 1st century eyes. Some good advice I’ve had is ‘Beware of reading parchment by artificial light’, so let’s grab an oil lamp and see if John’s suspiciously simple sacrifices are quite what they seem.

Did John really mean just donate an old shirt to the jumble sale and that’s it, you’re done; you’ve been a good person, so that’s repentance ticked off the list? I think not. Hold on to your hats, there’s a bit of Greek coming at you.

‘Chiton’ is the word here, and it’s a tunic. Basically a pillowcase with holes for your arms and head. Everybody wore them and mostly, it was all you wore. In cold weather you would have a cloak as well, which doubled as your blanket, but that was pretty much it. And most people would only have one tunic which they wore day in, day out. Clothing was expensive back then. That was why the soldiers at the cross thought it worthwhile squabbling over Jesus’s old robe.

So you’ve worked hard and managed to save up to get yourself a spare tunic, or a relative dies and leaves one to you, and now you can – shock – wash the first, or wear both when it’s cold. And then this John guy goes and tells you to give it away! Give it away? Are you mad?

The modern equivalent might be something like: your job gives you a company car or you’ve saved up to get a second motor yourself, or a relative dies and leaves you a holiday home. Great! You’ve finally made it in life. Then stupid John says you’ve got to give one away!

What? You are kidding, right?

But doesn’t that over-the-top demand fit better with the rest of John’s message than ‘be a nice person and donate your old clothes to the jumble sale’? This is radical stuff. This is not a nice, easy salvation for a Sunday morning that leaves the rest of your life unaffected.

If repentance is real, a 180 turn, not just a quick saying sorry, then it will show in real life: in possessions, in actions, in money. Zaccheaus lost a lot of cold, hard cash when he decided to follow Jesus. The tax-collectors and soldiers in today’s reading faced the same challenge. That was a big pay cut that John was demanding. How prepared are we for costly discipleship when that cost means our bank balance?

An Activity

Get yourself in a comfortable place and close your eyes to cut out distractions. Take time to think through the reading, with you as one of the crowd coming to hear John. Picture the scene: the river, the heaving crowd, John shouting by the water’s edge. Why are you there, and what are you hoping to hear?

Take a minute or two to think about John’s words. Does he mean you?

You snakes!” he said to them. “Who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. And don’t start saying among yourselves that Abraham is your ancestor. I tell you that God can take these rocks and make descendants for Abraham! The axe is ready to cut down the trees at the roots; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.”

As you listen to John, you find yourself nearer the front of the crowd and you see people asking John questions. The answers he gives are hard – a real challenge to their lives.

The people asked him, “What are we to do, then?” He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.”

Some tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him, “Teacher, what are we to do?” “Don’t collect more than is legal,” he told them.

Some soldiers also asked him, “What about us? What are we to do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay.”

Now it’s your turn. You ask John what you should do to show that you have turned from your sins. What is the answer?

A Prayer

Lord, my Lord,

I don’t want to play at being a Christian, swapping true discipleship for a low-calorie, easy-iron alternative. I want to do this properly or not at all.
I know I can never earn my way to heaven by doing good things, and I am so grateful that you have done for me what I could never do.
But I also know that being in your team means playing by the rules, and sometimes those rules do sit easily with how I want to live my life.
Forgive me, please when I mess up, and set me back on the right track. I want to do things your way, really I do, even when I get it so wrong. Please teach me and guide me and help me to listen to your voice

Amen

Bible Text

Luke 3:7-18 Good News Translation

Crowds of people came out to John to be baptised by him. “You snakes!” he said to them. “Who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. And don’t start saying among yourselves that Abraham is your ancestor. I tell you that God can take these rocks and make descendants for Abraham! The axe is ready to cut down the trees at the roots; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.”

The people asked him, “What are we to do, then?” He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.”

Some tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him, “Teacher, what are we to do?” “Don’t collect more than is legal,” he told them.

Some soldiers also asked him, “What about us? What are we to do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay.”

People’s hopes began to rise, and they began to wonder whether John perhaps might be the Messiah. So John said to all of them, “I baptise you with water, but someone is coming who is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to untie his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He has his winnowing shovel with him, to thresh out all the grain and gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn the chaff in a fire that never goes out.”

In many different ways John preached the Good News to the people and urged them to change their ways.

Good News Translation (GNT)

Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society

 


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