The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.13 (Sunday)
The Wisdom of John
When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His 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 in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.
The authors of Luke, want to tell us about something about Jesus, through a narrative about Saint John the Baptist.
Let us take a moment and reflect on the wisdom of John given to us here.
The spirit of truth was in him, as it is in all of us. The people then, God’s children, were as we are today; created in the divine image.
We are all formed in the image of God; with innate capacities for reason, wisdom, and love. It is these qualities that we are referring to when we say that we are made in the image of God; creator of the entire universe.
Everyone, and everything in the universe, every moment of time flows from, and is sustained by the providence of God.
We did not then (in the time of John), and we do not now need to wait for an anointed one, for a Christ to preach to us and tell us the truth. The truth is spoken all around us, in ordinary moments, in normal conversation, the truth is speaking to you in your own heart, at the core of your being, from that seed of God’s Word that is germinating within you; just as it was spoken by John to those that followed him.
“What must we do?” The people asked.
Do no harm.
Execute your offices, and fulfill the trust that has been placed in you faithfully; without corruption.
There is nothing extraordinary in these precepts. This is the ordinary way of life that we are called to.
And yet it was stunning for the people to hear the truth spoken so simply; with such conviction, so alarming that those who listened to it thought John might a divine being.
Why is this our response to the truth when we hear it?
It is precisely because the solution to the world’s sickness (sin and the love of evil) is so simple, that when we try to imagine these solutions coming to fruition in our own lives, we get lost in the overwhelming reality of what is. As if we were trying to hold back an ocean of greed, hate, and fear with a wall made of paper, as thin as a wish.
In the here and now we all know what the solution is, and yet we have no faith in one another that each of us will do our part, and worse yet; many have no desire to do their part at all. The realities of sin and evil are so vast that when we try to imagine resolving them with the only solutions that are available (love and mercy), the scope of the problems takes on a cosmic significance.
Remember this, no matter how great the reality of sin and evil are; they are rooted in time and space, they are finite, and as such they are infinitely less than the infinite love of God.
John was wise when he set aside a claim to divinity; the expectation that he was himself an anointed being come to solve the world’s problems. He knew that they would not be solved in his lifetime, not in the final sense, because it is part of the human condition. He also knew that another would come to pick up his mantle, and carry on that work, because h truth is spoke in every generation, in every community, in all times. Again John was wise to point his followers to the future, because we are led into the place of justice and mercy only by our desire for it, and by the power of hope, through the expectation of it.
It is not necessary for us to believe as the Gospel writers did, that John was pointing to the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, because, if it had not been Jesus, it would have been someone else, as it will be someone else in our own future. This is because God’s redemptive work never ends.
When we are on God’s threshing floor, we came their as we are, a complete person, we came as the whole stalk of wheat. That is how we encounter God, in our entirety; each of us a whole person. The wheat and the chaff are not separate people, sinners and saints. We are each of us the wheat, and the chaff together.
It is the encounter with the divine that frees us from the qualities that bind us to our own sins. Gods winnowing fan blows against us like the wind, it is the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing over us and flowing into us; freeing us from the fear, and hate, and desire they cause us to lie, cheat, steal, and harm our neighbors, even those we love. The Spirit ruhah carries us to the fire where all of that doubt is burned away, not in a fire of prosecution, judgement and destruction, but in the fires of transformation, and purification, and hope.
The Third Sunday of Advent