The Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Advent (or as I liked to call it in my youth, “Pink-Candle-of-Joy, Is-It-Really-Still-TWO-Weeks-Until-Christmas?” Sunday) caught me off-guard this time around.
Luke’s Gospel is mostly widely recognized for Verse 16, where John the Baptist tells the people he is not the Messiah, “’I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire…” This is the part of the Gospel reading I remember most. The verse which has become imprinted in my mind.
John the Baptist. He is one of my favorites in the Bible. He is my kind of intense. Camel’s hair clothing with a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and wild honey, and challenging the establishment publicly about the ills of the day…how can you not like JTB?
This year, I came to a realization that, with my blinders on and focused fixed on Verse 16, I’ve missed out all these years on what may be the most important lesson in Luke’s Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent.
This year, hearing this Gospel reading through the fresh filter of Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy, the first couple of verses stood out more.
When all the people asked him, ‘What must we do, then?’ he answered, ‘Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone 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 the appointed 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!’
“What must we do, then?” is a call to living a merciful life. The answers—given to the common citizen, the corrupt tax collector and the soldier—are our instruction manual for mercy. They are a blueprint laid out by John the Baptist to “Repent!” and give us a guide to follow with these three simple rules.
- Do your job justly/honestly.
- Be kind/Don’t be a bully.
These three rules are guideposts as we take our place on the train of this year-long call to mercy. Really doesn’t sound that hard when John the Baptist breaks it down for us, right? They give us a leg up as we follow John’s message to “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
Be merciful in all your dealings. Be as merciful to others as the Lord is merciful to us.
Have a blessed Christmas season.