3rd Sunday of Advent Lectio Divina - December 12, 2021
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them,“Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize 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 with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
“What should we do?”
The crowds were compelled by John’s preaching because he addressed a difficult yet resonant truth. While their friends and acquaintances looked the other way, John addressed the issue of sin straight on. The people who came out to see him in the desert came to the realization that he is right. While they were pursuing worldly satisfaction, something in their heart remained unsatisfied. Their relationship with God suffered as they tended to their temporal desires. How true this is for me as well! How often have I chased after superficial things, while leaving the deep longings in my heart unattended to? The people knew John the Baptist was right. They knew they had to change and turn back to God, so their natural response to this revelation was “What should we do?” A rich man posed a similar question to Jesus: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). John and Jesus’ answers were very similar as well. Jesus told the rich man to follow the commandments of God. John essentially tells the crowd to live moral lives. If our consciences bother us and we remain unsatisfied after pursuing the things secular society tells us will please us, it behooves us to make things right with God and follow his law. His law is written on the most intrinsic part of us, our very hearts. He made us like himself, which means he made us to care deeply about goodness and truth. When we stray from that path, it is natural for us to sense that something is not right. The best thing to do then is to turn back to God and take the advice of Jesus and John: follow God’s commandments and live moral lives.
Even tax collectors came to be baptized
In Jesus’ time, not only were tax collectors hated for taking the people’s money. They were also hated because they represented the Roman Empire’s dominion over the Jews. The Gospel challenged people to change the ruthless reputation people had of tax collectors. Luke included them even before Jesus’ ministry began, and Christ even called one–Matthew–to be one of his apostle. We could sense the widespread hatred of tax collectors in the way Luke speaks of them. “Even tax collectors”, even that group of people every Jew despises, came to John the Baptist and were welcomed. The point here is that no profession, no sect of society, is outside of God’s mercy. Everyone can come to him to repent and be baptized if they come with a contrite heart.
all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.
In the book of Revelation, John the Apostle talks about the two witnesses who will prophesy during the End Times. It’s important to give this context for at least two reasons. First, in this season of Advent we must not lose sight of the Gospel message about the end of days. Second, it would be wise for us to see the preaching of John the Baptist from the perspective of the people of his day, because we could easily be fooled into thinking someone is the Christ when he is not. No one knows when he will come back, and you better believe the devil will take advantage of that lack of knowledge. If truth seekers felt like John the Baptist may have been the Christ, it is very likely that people like you and I will think someone is Christ coming back when in fact that someone is not Christ. We may think one of the two witnesses in Revelation is Christ. When we find out he is not, we may think the other witness is Christ. How can we know? Study Scripture thoroughly. Follow the guideposts God gives us in Scripture. Learn to recognize Christ’s voice, the voice of truth. This season of Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. There is no better way to prepare for Christ’s coming than by getting to know him better so we recognize him when he comes. While I speak of the Second Coming, I also speak of his coming into our hearts. If we do not know him well, we may deny him access when he is knocking.
Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
Despite the many foreboding words John preaches to the people, his message was essentially one of hope. When the Magi followed the Star of Bethlehem, their motivation was hope as well. It’s the hope that there is something beyond this world, that we were made for something more. While we are all prisoners of sin (except Mary, of course), this son of Mary, Son of David, Son of Man, foster son of Joseph, and–most importantly–Son of God, comes to invite us into communion with God. Through his son God offers forgiveness and a way to make things right again so we can live forever with our Father in heaven. This is good news indeed, and John does as good a job as one can in preparing people for it.
Here you are once again asking for entry into our hearts. You do not intrude, but ask politely out of courtesy for the free will you gave us. I invite you in. My heart is as ready as it can be. I will not wait for it to be perfect, because I need your grace to be perfect. Just as your mother, Mary–the Immaculate Conception–was freed from sin by nothing other than special favor from you, show me favor as well so Christ can come dwell in my heart this Advent and Christmas season and forever thereafter. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
During Advent, we are on the road to Bethlehem following that star. When we listen for God, and then listen to him, we are searching just as the Magi searched. John the Baptist paved the way. He made the crooked ways straight. Now it is our turn to follow on the path by listening to what God has to say to us.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and Managing Editor of Catholic World Report.