What Should We Do?
Advent 3 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 3: 10 — 18
Most of us experience times when it feels hopeless to try and keep to a Christian set of values while everything around seems to shout “Stop trying to be different. Go with the flow! You can’t solve the world’s problems. You didn’t create poverty or injustice. Forget the guilt trip.”
St. John the Baptist however, filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1: 41) teaches the very reverse. So, what does he teach?
“You must do something. You must do what is in your power.
You can, at least, give food and raiment to the poor starving
creatures around you. Begin with this. If you begin thus with
denying your selfishness, God will soon show you a more
excellent way — the way of grace in his Son. But till that Son
comes and reveals Himself to you, do what your hand finds
to do. Do some good to your fellow creatures. The way for you
to obtain mercy is to be merciful.” (Sadler 1886)
Some Reflections on Our Text
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
The Baptist had been “sorting out” those who gathered to listen to him but actually believed it was others who needed to repent, certainly not them!
However, it is clear from verse 10 that there were some very sincere people listening to him who felt a touch of genuine humility bordering on despair.
The question “What should we do?” sincerely seeks further information on how to avoid the calamities of which the Baptist is warning.
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.”
The answer is immediately within reach of every listener. All are spoken to on the same level. The Baptist does not address only the rich, in favour of the poor. He could have excused the latter in that they had little enough as it was. No, everyone is to meet the same standard: Whatever you have that you do not absolutely need, give it away.
Sadler adds a helpful comment:
“Of course such words of the Holy Baptist are to be understood
in the light of common sense; men are not to give to enable
others to be idle”, and so St Jerome applies the words of St Paul
as the best commentary on this passage: “I mean not that other
men be eased, and ye burdened; but by an equality, that now
at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want,
that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that
there may be equality.” (2 Cor. 8: 13 — 14.)
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to
him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
Tax collectors (publicans) kept coming to hear the Baptist. They courteously addressed him as teacher (Master, Rabbi) but knew that he was in fact a prophet. They also ask the key question, “What should we do?”
What follows may be one of most surprising responses in Scripture. We might expect a reply something like: “Your decision to betray your own people and act as agents of our Roman oppressors is disreputable. You are equal to the lowest form of life! The only way you can save yourselves is to give up this privileged existence they give you, and stop collaborating with them.”
He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Instead, back comes the reply even the tax-collectors did not expect to hear: “Collect no more than what the Romans require”. The implications for Christian living, stemming from this answer, are enormous. How we interpret this response will directly affect how we pass on our spiritual heritage to others. That is worth pondering.
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.”
Then the second unlikely group also put the question. Literally they say —
“And we, what should we do?”
These were non-Jewish soldiers, probably despised mercenaries employed by Herod Antipas to prop up his corrupt rule. They asked advice in a manner which showed they realised they were not entitled to it.
Again the Baptist refrains from demanding they quit their present job. He surprises the enquirers and angers some of his own people, mainly the officials who resent the Roman occupation and puppet (and supposedly Jewish) King.
If we were asked to sum up how we feel about the Baptist’s spirituality we could reasonably say he was realistic, practical, and focused on first priorities.
Verse 15 and 16
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking
in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.
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.
As some translations imply, “The people were on tip-toes of expectation, wondering if the Baptist was the Messiah”. In these two verses the matter is clarified in no uncertain terms, and three distinguishing marks are supplied. The traditional style of referring to “one mightier than I” is worth retaining. The word “mighty” is often used in the O. T. for the leader of the final struggle with evil.
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.”
This is not a popular image, and increasingly, not a popular belief. The warning given is clear: The coming of the Messiah will not mean salvation for all. Let each one be responsible for their own response.
Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news
to the people.
However, the Baptist is shown to be balancing this tough talk with frequent encouragement from him as he repeated the “good news” to any who would listen. He does not “pull any punches” when it comes to proclaiming God’s warning to his people. But likewise he emphasizes the way forward which God provides to those who are truly listening. Our Lord maintained this same divinely established pattern in his teaching.
Sadly, Christians often look upon St John the Baptist as an eccentric (almost weird) outcast who is distant from life as it was lived. If we meditate on this passage we see that he is fearless in carrying out his appointed mission, yet warm and majestically gentle in helping the sincere to take up his challenge.
We close with a fitting tribute to this humble man of God:
“St John was by family great among his countrymen. His birth
was foretold by an angel. His calling as the forerunner of Christ
was foretold by two prophets, Isaiah and Malachi. He was ‘the
friend of the bridegroom’, ‘a burning and shining light’. Of those
born of women, none had risen greater than he. His character
was one of the noblest in all Scripture”. (Sadler. 1886)
We recommend the article on our website: Three Hebrew New Testament Hymns as especially appropriate spiritual reading during Advent.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s Teaching contained in His Word and in
What Should We Do?
Advent 3 Year C St. Luke 3: 10 — 18
1. Perhaps this short reading may spur us to ask, “What should we do? Perhaps it’s a good opportunity to ask this and other awkward questions and pray for insight to answer them. At any rate it is not a time for despair or for thinking the world is beyond repair. The Baptist is very convincing about that, for he “preached good news to the people!” He was absolutely confident in the saving action of God but knew from Sacred Scripture that unless God’s own people repent of their unfaithfulness, the chaos would worsen.
2. In our times, we do not have a John the Baptist calling us out into the desert. We often hear people bemoan the fact. But they are sadly lost, for John’s message is being proclaimed in all its power. It is Holy Church that calls us and delivers his prophetic message. That is why she marks the Advent season so very clearly and emphatically. The question we may well ask is: are we (not someone else) — are we listening to the teaching — and responding to it sincerely?
3. Not many preachers say to the crowds who come: “You brood of vipers!” — only to find their numbers double. “The people were filled with expectation.” We could pray for this same sense expectation in ourselves and in one another. Advent seems a wonderful opportunity to re-set our sights on the Lord’s return AND put in place changes in our life-style to demonstrate to God we acknowledge our weaknesses and want to amend our lives.
Let us pray for one another to take seriously the Church’s teaching of Advent and put its lessons into practice in simple, homely and uncomplicated ways.
Luke 3: 10 — 18
Advent 3 Year C
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
11 He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said
13 He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is
14 Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should
15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were
16 6 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you
17 His winnowing fan 7 is in his hand to clear his threshing
18 Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good
6  He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire: in contrast to John’s baptism with water, Jesus is said to baptize with the holy Spirit and with fire. From the point of view of the early Christian community, the Spirit and fire must have been understood in the light of the fire symbolism of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (⇒ Acts 2:1-4); but as part of John’s preaching, the Spirit and fire should be related to their purifying and refining characteristics (⇒ Ezekiel 36:25-27; ⇒ Malachi 3:2-3). See the note on ⇒ Matthew 3:11.
7  Winnowing fan: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 3:12.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised