What I’m Thinking: John at the Riverside

John reminds us that discipleship rarely (if ever) means that we stay just the same.

Here’s a transcript:

On this second Sunday of Advent, I’m thinking about the third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 3:1-12).

It happens every year, thanks to the editors of the lectionary — sometimes on the first Sunday of Advent but most likely on the second Sunday of Advent (the Sunday whose theme is peace) — suddenly into the promises of Isaiah and the prophecies of peace and goodwill and harmony amongst all creatures we get the intrusion of John the Baptist.

The Baptist at the party who, when he sees Pharisees and Sadducees coming down for baptism says… politely… “You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come!”

Maybe not so politely.

the lectionary editors have placed the Baptist in Advent not because of the theme of peace in the second Sunday. No, they have placed the Baptist in Advent because he is the great proclaimer of the advent of Christ.

The Baptist has to be at the party because those that he criticized — the Sadducees and the Pharisees — would have been the people held in the greatest esteem in John’s day. These were the leaders to whom people looked up in the religious world of first century Judaism: the Sadducees who made sure the temple ran; the Pharisees who were the teachers of the villages all through judea and Galilee — for that matter, through the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean world — and John called them “you brood of vipers” and asked who warned them to flee from the wrath to come.

The sad truth is that religious leadership has been a terrible temptation all over the centuries, before John, after John, amongst Jews and Christians, amongst Hindus and Buddhists, amongst all the great and for that matter not so populous religions of the planet: religious leaders are subject to temptation. Religious leaders all too often fall into it.

Who, indeed, warned us to flee from the wrath to come?

The foundation of Jesus’ Messiahship was, first and foremost, the reform of the religious leadership of his day. He spoke primarily to the ordinary people, not to significant leaders, but you might recall Jesus spending a lot of time in Pharisees’ houses. John, Jesus following him, both wanted to bring the people closer to God. John did it through the exercise of baptism with hundreds — thousands? who knows? — of people coming to him in order to get that sensation but also that spiritual reality of bringing their souls closer to God. And that included some of those who were most aware of their own temptations and indeed how they had fallen into them, those Sadducees and Pharisees who came to the riverside.

For you and I, John is a necessary guest at the party because he summons us to be better than we have been, to recapture the commitments that we have made before, religious leaders for certain but indeed all people. It was all people that came for baptism in the Jordan.

It is all people who needs to seek the renewal and the reform and the reshaping of their lives in response to the Baptist’s call.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on November 28, 2022

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