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.”
LK 3: 10-18

"What should we do?" The paradox is that in spite of the desert setting and his wild appearance, despite his fiery language about the coming wrath, John's message is a gentle one: that anyone who does what his or her circumstances demand can be saved. To the crowds, he points out that sharing of resources is appropriate -- not the giving away of what they need for survival but a sharing of any surplus food or clothing with those who have neither. Instead of rebuking the hated tax collectors for collaborating with the Romans, he simply instructs them to be honest -- to stop overcharging the people and pocketing the extra revenue. As for the soldiers, they are to stop all bullying, making false accusations and complaining about their wages. In effect, his message is that is is possible to achieve holiness in any walk of life if one performs one's duty and treats others justly and with compassion.

"What should we do?" John's approach is to encourage spiritual renewal. He urges the crowds to examine their lives, to repent of their sins and to submit to the purifying waters of the River Jordan. He is clear that he is preparing the way for One who is mightier than he, and for a baptism not of water but of Spirit and fire. Though we are drawing close to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we need to be clear that John is preparing the people for an encounter with the adult Christ, not the Infant Jesus!

"What should we do?" The teachings of Jesus are much more challenging than anything John has to say: while John is advocating a basic morality, Jesus will turn upside down any notions of mere piety or conventional faith, challenging basic beliefs surrounding sin, redemption, holiness and righteousness. Those who will be saved not only include the tax collectors, but also sinners, prostitutes, the poor, the sick, the ostracized, the marginalized, along with Romans, Samaritans and Canaanites. As far as Jesus is concerned, what is needed goes beyond "duty" and includes loving neighbor, forgiving enemies, giving away everything, abandoning home, turning the other cheek, returning good for evil, renouncing evil, taking up one's cross etc. etc. This is by no means a soft and sentimental message, but one which rejects any form of entitlement, exclusivity or privilege. If the crowds breath a sigh of relief when they hear John's the Baptist's preaching, they will have a very different reaction when they listen to Jesus' parables and to the Beatitudes.

"What should we do?" Sadly, many Christians stay at the level of "duty," never progressing to the radical discipleship to which Jesus invites us. But attending mass, being a "good citizen," performing private devotions and observing the commandments is not enough. There is always that "one thing more" to which Jesus invites us, just as he invited the rich man who had observed the commandments since his youth (Matt 19:16-22). In this season of Advent, let us reflect on that "one thing more" so that we don't delude ourselves about how closely we are following the Christ.

  1. What should YOU do to become a better disciple?
  2. Which of Jesus' teachings do you find the most difficult and why?
  3. Why do many Christians feel more at home with the Child Jesus than with the Adult Christ?
  4. Do you think that the Church should emphasize the Baptism of Jesus more than his Birth?