What Should We Do?

Advent 3C

Luke 3: 10 18

Introduction

Most of us experience times when it feels hopeless to try and keep to a Christian set of values while everything around seems to shout “Stop trying to be different. Go with the flow! You can’t solve the world’s problems. You didn’t create poverty or injustice. Forget the guilt trip.”

St John the Baptist however, filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1: 41) teaches the very reverse. So, what does he teach?

“You must do something. You must do what is in your power. You can, at least, give food and raiment to the poor starving creatures around you. Begin with this. If you begin thus with denying your selfishness, God will soon show you a more excellent way — the way of grace in his Son. But till that Son comes and reveals Himself to you, do what your hand finds to do. Do some good to your fellow creatures. The way for you to obtain mercy is to be merciful.”

(Sadler 1886)

Notes On Our Text

Verse 10

The Baptist had been “sorting out” those who gathered to listen to him but actually believed it was others who needed to repent, certainly not them!

However, it is clear from verse 10 that there were some very sincere people listening to him who felt a touch of genuine humility bordering on despair.

The question “What should we do?” sincerely seeks further information on how to avoid the calamities of which the Baptist is warning.

Verse 11

The answer is immediately within reach of every listener. All are spoken to on the same level. The Baptist does not address only the rich, in favour of the poor. He could have excused the latter in that they had little enough as it was. No, everyone is to meet the same standard: Whatever you have that you do not absolutely need, give it away.

Sadler adds a helpful comment:

“Of course such words of the Holy Baptist are to be understood in the light of common sense; men are not to give to enable others to be idle, and so St Jerome applies the words of St Paul as the best commentary on this passage: “I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.” (2 Cor. 8: 13 — 14.)

Verse 12

Tax collectors (publicans) kept coming to hear the Baptist. They courteously addressed him as teacher (Master, Rabbi) but knew that he was in fact a prophet. They also ask the key question, “What should we do?”

What follows may be one of most surprising answers in Scripture. We might expect a reply something like: “Your decision to betray your own people and act as agents of our Roman oppressors is disreputable. You are equal to the lowest form of life! The only way you can save yourselves is to give up this privileged existence they give you, and stop collaborating with them.”

Verse 13

Instead, back comes the reply even the tax-collectors did not expect to hear: “Collect no more than what the Romans require”. The implications for Christian living, stemming from this answer, are enormous. How we interpret this response will directly affect how we pass on our spiritual heritage to others. That is worth pondering.

Verse 14

Then the second unlikely group also put the question. Literally they say —

“And we, what should we do?”

These were non-Jewish soldiers, probably despised mercenaries employed by Herod Antipas to prop up his corrupt rule. They asked advice in a manner which showed they realised they were not entitled to it.

Again the Baptist refrains from demanding they quit their present job. He surprises the enquirers and angers some of his own people, mainly the officials who resent the Roman occupation and puppet (and supposedly Jewish) King.

If we were asked to sum up how we feel about the Baptist’s spirituality we could reasonably say he was realistic, practical, and focused on first priorities.

Verse 15 and 16

As the New English Bible has it, “The people were on tip-toes of expectation”, wondering if the Baptist was the Messiah". In these two verses the matter is clarified in no uncertain terms, and three distinguishing marks are supplied. The older style of referring to “one mightier than I” is worth retaining. The word “mighty” is often used in the O. T. for the leader of the final struggle with evil.

Verse 17

This is not a popular image, and increasingly, not a popular belief. The warning given is clear: The coming of the Messiah will not mean salvation for all. Let each one be responsible for their own response.

Verse 18

However, the Baptist is shown to be balancing this tough talk with frequent encouragement from him as he repeated the “good news” to any who would listen. He does not “pull any punches” when it comes to proclaiming God’s warning to his people. But likewise he emphasizes the way forward which God provides to those who are truly listening. Our Lord maintained this same divinely established pattern in his teaching.

Conclusion

Sadly, Christians often look upon St John the Baptist as an eccentric (almost weird) outcast who is distant from life as it was lived. If we meditate on this passage we see that he is fearless in carrying out his appointed mission, yet warm and majestically gentle in helping the sincere to take up his challenge.

We close with a fitting tribute to this humble man of God:

“St John was by family great among his countrymen. His birth was foretold by an angel. His calling as the fore-runner of Christ was foretold by two prophets, Isaiah and Malachi. He was ‘the friend of the bridegroom’, ‘a burning and shining light’. Of those born of women, none had risen greater than he. His character was one of the noblest in all Scripture”.

(Sadler. 1886)

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