Luke 3:7-14 (CEV)
7 Crowds of people came out to be baptized, but John said to them, “You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run from the coming judgment? 8 Do something to show that you really have given up your sins. Don’t start saying that you belong to Abraham’s family. God can turn these stones into children for Abraham. 9 An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire.”
10 The crowds asked John, “What should we do?”
11 John told them, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any. If you have food, share it with someone else.”
12 When tax collectors came to be baptized, they asked John, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 John told them, “Don’t make people pay more than they owe.”
14 Some soldiers asked him, “And what about us? What do we have to do?”
John told them, “Don’t force people to pay money to make you leave them alone. Be satisfied with your pay.”
What Should We Do?
I’ve been a teacher one way or another for more than twenty years. And one of the biggest things I’ve noticed over the years is that every person I teach I need to teach differently. Sometimes the differences are small. I taught some children to read by using flashcards and a “whole language” approach, and other children to read using phonics, but most of them by some combination of the two approaches. Sometimes the differences are bigger. I’ve taught childbirth education classes to individuals with developmental delays that placed them at the level of an eight year old and childbirth education classes to individuals with their masters’ degrees. Although the goal was the same – to have the best labour and birth of their baby as possible – the method and language and style and approach was completely different.
When the crowds ask John “what should we do?” it’s interesting that he doesn’t give a single, glib answer. He doesn’t say, “Go and offer this sacrifice at the temple, and get all your friends to do the same thing.” He could have. The Jewish scriptures have lots of other prophets who are very single-minded about the solutions to Israel’s problems.
But John is different. John is very specific. John seems to think that for each person to get to where they need to be to be ready to meet Jesus, they are each going to have to take a different approach, but each approach points in the same direction: a power subverting, more just, more Shalom-filled way of living.
“If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any. If you have food, share it with someone else.” In other words, in the midst of all of your poverty and brokenness take some time to notice what you do have, and then be willing to share that with someone who has even less than you. Subvert the powers that would see you as a people demoralized and broken to the point of giving in by caring for each others’ basic needs.
“Don’t make people pay more than they owe.” In other words, don’t use the economic privilege and power you’ve been given to increase the poverty of another person. Subvert the powers that would use you as a weapon in their fight to repress the people of Israel by choosing not to take advantage of your privilege, but to seek justice even in your work as a collaborator with the state.
“Don’t force people to pay money to make you leave them alone. Be satisfied with your pay.” In other words, don’t use the political or social power you’ve been given to increase the oppression you collectively live under. Don’t pass on the oppression you’ve experienced to the next person down the hierarchy from yourself. Subvert the powers that would see you dehumanize those “below” you and regain your own humanity in the process.
Each of these answers is a call for a peaceful, non-violent response to state-sponsored power injustices. Each of these answers reaches past the brokenness of the situation towards a goal of Shalom – of wholenesness – of the Kingdom of love and peace and justice that Jesus is about to usher in.
If we had been there asking John “what should we do?” the answers would have been different for us, too. Maybe it would be, “If you are a landlord, don’t charge more money than you have to, just because you can.” Maybe it would be, “If you are buying groceries for yourself, buy something extra for the homeless person sitting outside.” Maybe it would be, “If you are taking your kids somewhere fun, invite their friend whose parents are are struggling to support the family to join you.” Maybe it would be, “If you are choosing where to buy your clothes, do the research to try to choose companies that pay their workers a decent wage.” Maybe it would be???
Because the path to a more just, more Shalom-filled way of living is going to look different for each of us, but we should each be asking the question, “what should I do?”Journal Questions:
- What are some of the injustices you find yourself upset about on a regular basis?
- What actions seem to increase this injustice?
- What actions seem to decrease the pain of this injustice?
- It’s often easy to see how another person needs to change to bring about more Shalom – more wholeness – to this world we live in. What do you think John might have said to you if you’d asked him “what should I do?”
- Would you be willing to ask God “what should I do?”