THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C
GOSPEL READING; LUKE 3:10-18.
VS.10 When all the people asked John, “What must we do?”
Vs. 11 he answered, “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none and the one who has something to eat must do the same.”
Vs.12 There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, “Master, what must we do?”
Vs.13 He said to them, “Exact no more than your rate.”
Vs.14 Some soldiers too 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!”
Vs.15 A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ,
Vs.16 so John declared before them all, “I baptize 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 baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Vs.17 His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.”
Vs.18 As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and announce the Good News to them.
BROADER HISTORICAL CONTEXT:
Traditionally on the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Advent the gospels concentrate on John the Baptist as a model of advent waiting – Someone one knows how to wait with trust and to work with humility and confidence for the coming of God more fully into our world.
Today’s gospel is a composite passage consisting of several encounters brought together. The Advent mood of joyful expectation and earnest preparation is explicit in this Gospel where John directs his message to all persons and professions with a call for social justice, honesty and generosity.
The last section of the gospel gives us a powerful insight into the spirituality of John the Baptist – he knows who he is and who he is not and he is content with this.
Where did this take place?
John is baptising and preaching down by the river Jordan where his is offering people a symbolic ritual of repentance – signifying a change of mind and heart and a commitment to enter more fully into the plan of God
When did this happen?
Omitting verses 7-9 this passage follows on from last week’s gospel and John’s confident proclamation of the imminent coming of God into the world.
In verse 10 the multitudes clearly impressed by John’s preaching are questioning the implications of all of this for their way of life, “what then shall we do?”
Who was there?
John the Baptist – in this gospel passage we see John as sensitive, courageous and compassionate human being, prophet and leader. In his practical responses to the questions put to him, we encounter a man with great awareness of the world around him, of God’s concern for the poor and vulnerable and God’s desire that all would be saved.
The people – those followers of John who were beginning to think he was the Messiah, saviour, the answer to all their needs.
Tax Collectors – Palestine was a colony of the Roman Empire. The majority of the population was opposed to colonial power but some like the tax collectors profited from it. They had a reputation for corruption and as a result were despised and ostracised. They had betrayed their own people.
Soldiers – mostly non-Jews, often mercenaries. When the tax collectors gave orders the soldiers were the ones who made sure that the people paid up. This often led to bullying and harassment of the poor.
V10-14 – we have John’s practical, pastoral response to the questions put to him. He doesn’t give vague answers – his answers are concrete and practical. These instructions are not to do with how to pray or worship but rather they are about how to live. He challenges the crowds to generosity in their care for the poor. He challenges the tax collectors to honesty and fairness, the soldiers to respect and gentleness. Interestingly, he doesn’t write them off or ask them to do something that they are not in a position to do. John knew people and life and his thoughtful answers show respect and compassion for every individual and their circumstances. Everyone has a part to play. Everyone has to begin somewhere on the road of repentance.
V15-18 – gives us a powerful insight into the spirituality of John – the inner life of John the Baptist. John is aware of the “feeling of expectancy” that is growing among his followers that he might be the Messiah but he is having none of it and dispels that notion once and for all, “I am baptizing with water…” With extraordinary humility and self-confidence he clarifies for his listeners that, yes, what he is doing is valid, worthwhile and good but he is not God. He is not the Messiah. He is not in charge. It is all God’s work – beginning, middle and end – and therefore he does what he can while leaving the rest in God’s hands, knowing that “Someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am,” who will further this work and see that it is completed.
“His winnowing fan” – was a large wooden shovel which was used to toss grain in the air. The heavy grain fell to the ground while the chaff was blown away. We are called to play our part in the struggle against evil in ourselves and in the world and we can rest assured, with God’s power, that goodness will ultimately be victorious, as ”He will gather the wheat into his barn” and take care of the chaff.
The third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday meaning “Rejoice”. The church is inviting us to anticipate and enter into the coming victory of God’s love. In the beautiful first reading the Prophet Zephaniah 3:14-18 heralds a new dawn for God’s oppressed and suffering people “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud …the Lord the king of Israel is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear…He will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love”. We are invited to live with joy in our hearts in anticipation of his coming of which we are assured.
In the second reading, Saint Paul reassures the people of Philippi that God’s coming is near so there is every reason to “be happy always happy in the Lord.”
GUIDELINES FOR MEDITATION:
Remember an encounter with someone whom we admired greatly, who inspired us so much that we were moved to ask “What must I do?” in order to experience something of the humility and joy, freedom and simplicity that you saw in them.
Remember the John the Baptist figure – parent, teacher, guide, preacher – who challenged us to a truer and deeper understanding of our discipleship of Jesus: that it was not only about prayer and liturgy but even more so about solidarity, compassion, mercy, community caring and sharing…”If anyone has two tunics he must give …”
Remember people in various walks of life – “tax-collectors” and “soldiers”- who do not have a good reputation and yet live their lives with honesty, integrity, and goodness and in doing so walk closely with God.
Remember when we have been or seen a “John the Baptist figure” not afraid to challenge, but doing so with sensitivity, understanding and compassion, by only asking of the other what was do-able, within their reach “exact no more than your rate…” thus ensuring that they did not feel excluded.
Remember someone with the extraordinary humility of John the Baptist: with two feet on the ground, grateful, honest, unassuming, reliant on others, deferential and yet at the same time inwardly free and self-confident, “I baptise with water…”
Remember life experiences that have taught us that we are at our best when we are humble team-players: “I baptize with water, but someone is coming who is more powerful than I am…he will baptize with holy spirit and fire..” that we are part of something much bigger and greater than ourselves and that we experience our real strength when we work together.
Remember experiences in life that have helped us keep things in proper perspective, reminding us of what really matters in life , like a winnowing fan separating “the wheat,” from “the chaff”, and given us confidence that one day “He will gather the wheat into a barn and throw the chaff into a fire that will never go out.”