Christmas is just over a week away … what should we do?
On this third Sunday of Advent, perhaps we might pay closer attention to today’s gospel message about preparation. So many busy people today – those who go to church regularly; those who go to church once or twice a year; those who aren’t baptized and haven’t heard the Gospel yet. To whom is John the Baptizer speaking?
He is speaking to three groups of people. The third group was made up of Roman soldiers. Obviously, that is, non-Jews. They were pagans, and John’s teaching moved them to listen. Does the practice of our faith move people to ask questions about our Christianity? John basically said to the soldiers, don’t practice extortion and don’t falsely accuse anyone.” In other words, don’t misuse your power and authority. Isn’t that what has happened in our world today as some actors, politicians, priests, police officers, teachers, relatives, et cetera are called to account for their actions through the #metoo movement? What was John’s point? He wasn’t telling the pagans to do something unreasonable or extraordinary, like fasting or praying through the night. He just said: do your job with integrity; be honest. This was a big step for men and women not used to doing their jobs this way. It meant taking a big step forward. It meant approaching life in a spiritual way.
The second group was made up of tax collectors. They were a step up from the pagan soldiers – at least they were supposed to be. They were Jews, but in name alone. For all practical purposes they were living like pagans. They were living by the world’s standards, not God’s. They were living entitled lives. John wasn’t telling them to do anything extraordinary. He wasn’t telling them to change employment and get less materialistic jobs. He wasn’t telling them to leave their families, go into the desert and do penance. He just said, live your lives in a way that is in harmony with who they proclaimed to be: God’s chosen people. For people who were Jews (Catholics) in name alone, this was a tall order… it meant taking the next step forward; practice your Judaism (Catholicism) in fact, not just in name.
And the first group was composed of practicing Jews (Catholics) who were living faithful lives, but who could be doing more. John said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” In other words, John was simply saying what the prophets had been saying for years. Treat one another as brothers and sisters. Treat each other the way you want people to treat you, if your situation was reversed. For people not used to this – again, this was a tall order. It meant taking the next step in the journey of becoming who God called you to be.
How does this apply to us? What would John say to us, if we asked him how to prepare for the coming of Jesus during Advent?” John would probably reply, “well that depends on which group you are in. Just take the next step forward.
—Fr. Mark Gazin, CSB