In Luke 3 we see John the Baptist preaching to the crowds who have come out to see him and to receive his baptism of water. He gives them a real sharp and pointed sermon about their sins and their need to change their ways. His is a hard message. He does not mince his words, or soften them in any way. He warns them in very powerful terms, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (verse 9) He is speaking of them. They (and we) are the trees. In proper fear of the Lord, the people ask him, “What then should we do?” (verse 10)
What John the Baptist says to the people then he says to us as well. He gives real, practical, direct advice on the kinds of attitudes we should have and the kinds of things we should do for one another. These are not airy, idealistic ideas either. They are real, active, positive actions that we can and should be taking, in order to “bear good fruit” with our lives. They indicate that life is not “all about me.” Rather, it is about exactly the opposite. It is about how we see and treat all others in this life. He says to them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do the same.” (verse 11) With words like these and those he gives to the tax collectors and the soldiers, John truly is preparing the way for the Messiah, who will live this way, and who will tell us with his life, his self-sacrificing death and his resurrection, to do the same for the others with our own lives.
Our sinfulness is the cause of the world’s problems. Not one of us is sinless. On occasion, we commit acts of selfishness, often without recognizing it, or worse, we rationalize those acts of selfishness in some way. Oh, we may try to sooth our minds by saying that our sins are not great sins. We may compare ourselves to others whom we consider to be the great sinners of the world and in so doing feel that, in comparison, we are innocent. But the fact is that every sin, great and small, is dangerous to our eternal souls. Certainly the grave sins are evidently dangerous to our souls, but the reality is that our seemingly small sins, done over and over again until they become habits so deeply ingrained in our lives that we no longer recognize them as sins and, therefore feel no need to repent of them, are as dangerous to our souls as the gravest of sins. Every sin is a stain on our soul. Unrecognized and unrepented, they pose a grave threat to our eternal lives with, or without God. We might fool ourselves and say that Jesus’ death on the cross has forgiven all sins, therefore I need not worry. This, like all heresies, is a half truth. It is a sin against the Holy Spirit, as sin of presumption. Yes, Jesus’ supreme act of self-sacrifice on the cross has made forgiveness available to all who recognize their sins and who, in sorrow, repent of them. That is what we must do. We must recognize our sins and repent of them. In this passage, John the Baptist is telling us how we can repent of our sins. By turning away from our sinful, selfish acts to see and then to serve the wounded and suffering other.
Many of us are blessed with a multitude of talents, or with material well-being. But there are many more who, for countless reasons do not have and enjoy such blessings, either temporarily, or because of some reason that is out of their control. This is not just a matter of rich v. poor. How many times have we been shaken out of our selfish concerns by the sudden recognition of the suffering of someone in our own family. When we see that suffering we are challenged to turn away from ourselves, to lose ourselves in service to the suffering other. The great mystery is that in doing so we find a greater, deeper, longer lasting happiness than we ever did in pursuing our own selfish concerns. There is a reason for this. That is what God made us for; to know, to love, and to serve others in this world, and by doing so, to come to know, love, and serve Him more and more with our lives. John’s message here is very clear. Turn away from you sins, by turning toward the needs of the suffering other. Be just in all that you do. “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone…” And here is the kicker, “be satisfied with your wages.” We have been given the practical advice as to what to do in response to the generous forgiveness we have received when we have have recognized and repented of our sins. We are to become Jesus’ good and faithful servants in all that we think, say, and do in our daily lives.
Lord, give us the courage to look at our lives and to recognize our sins. Give us also the graces we need to develop humble and contrite hearts. Fill us to overflowing with thanksgiving and an undivided love so that we can forget ourselves in service to others. We pray these things in your most holy and powerful name, Jesus. Amen!
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