Word of God and Salesian Life Fr Juan Jose’ Bartolome’ SDB
3rd Sunday of Advent Year C Lectio divina on Lk 3,10-18
We are drawing near to Christmas when we celebrate the fact that God chose to become man, in order to be close to us. This allows us to get away from the tension created by the readings of the past few Sundays. Today the Word of God puts before us for our meditation a theme that may seem unimportant in our daily lives, or rather, a theme that maybe we do not attach enough importance to, namely joy. It might seem a bit of a contradiction when they tell us that, as believers, we ought to live in joy, while at the same time they are telling us to live in expectation, since God is not yet fully present in our lives. What is there to rejoice about if God is not present in our life journey, and we are deprived of his loving care? How can we be joyful if we are living without God, and, at the same time, waiting for his coming?
At that time: 10 The multitudes asked John, “What then shall we do?”
11 And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you.”
14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
15 As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ,
16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
John the Baptist’s call to conversion meets with a positive response from the people, summed up by Luke in a brief conversation. He begins with some harsh words from the Baptist: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Lk 3,7). ”Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.” (Lk.3,9). Then his exhortation focuses on the practice of charity: no one can keep or eat a double share when his neighbour is in need.
It is important to note that the conversion to God, demanded with such severity, (Lk.3,7-9), is immediately reduced to taking care of the neighbour in need of clothing or food. That was how the Baptist “evangelized”, preached good news to the people (Lk. 3,18). Anyone who worships God must show fraternal charity towards a neighbour in need. This is the conversion needed to prepare the way of the Lord. There is no better way to await his coming than by attending to a needy neighbour. The Baptist who called for conversion to God shows us clearly how it comes about, namely through total conversion to our neighbour. Our personal relationship with God, our return to the Father, is renewed by a return to brotherly love.
Although the first application is quite precise, the Baptist continues to specify the conversion he is preaching according to the different categories of people who are listening. He tells the tax-collectors that they should demand no more than what was due (Lk.3, 12-13). He tells soldiers to renounce violence and every abuse of power (Lk. 3, 14). In every case, conversion to God comes down to doing something for the benefit of one’s neighbour (Lk.3, 10, 12. 14). If we want to be good in the eyes of God, we should do good to our neighbour.
This kind of preaching, marked by a radical approach and a sense of urgency, prompted the people to ask John is he were not, by chance, the promised Messiah. They heard him speaking with such clarity about what God wanted of them, that they felt they had to ask him where he got the power to speak with such certainty. But the one calling them to conversion was not, in fact, the one who was to come. The Baptist called for conversion so that the Messiah would come. If the people did not return to God, God would not come to his people.
John explains that someone else will come after him who will not only call people to conversion but will make it possible through baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus demands more because he puts greater means at our disposal. Those who receive the power that he gives, cannot delay their conversion. Those who hear the Baptist follow the servant. His is not yet the voice of the Lord which will make them taste the sweetness of his invitation. All the voices that speak to us about the Lord are not yet the voice of the Lord. All that the prophets and the Precursor have told us is not the same as what he himself will say to us. However, listening to those who speak in his name awakens in us the hope of one day hearing his voice. If we do not hear the voice of the Lord who is to come, we can at least console ourselves and prepare by listening to those who speak about him.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
As always, the Word of God and its demands seem almost foolish and utopian. What reasons have we today to be happy or satisfied? We desire joy but it seems we are destined not to find it. Or, if we do find it, we discover that our expectations were greater than the reality. The effort we had to make beforehand was far greater than the satisfaction that followed. We long for joy but we experience it only a few hours in the week, or a few days in the year, or a few months in the whole of our lives. We all seek happiness eagerly, sometimes even with a touch of humour, and all we get is a moment of distraction or entertainment. We acknowledge that we are living a life that is not very interesting and makes little sense, even if it does offer us moments of joy and pleasure. We live in a society in which happiness is rented by the hour, and is confused with thoughtlessness and idleness, or, worse still, with a selfish disregard of others.
Obviously, this is not the kind of happiness God is calling us to. In a world of enormous potential, and enormous limitations, we Christians must share with the people around us our experience of the joy that comes from our faith in Christ. We can be free of major preoccupations if we make it our first concern to serve the God of our joy. We can face the future with hope because we believe that God himself is our future. Our world is not absurd, because God loves it to the point of becoming one of its inhabitants. No difficulty that arises between us can rob us of our joy, because we are witnesses of a God who has lived among us. We cannot be credible witnesses of this God-man unless we are happy. Perhaps our most urgent mission at the present time is to give the people around us reasons to live with joy. What good is our not being completely evil, if we are sad? Of what benefit to the world is our good will, if we cannot give people reasons to live with hope?
Despite all the bad things that may surround us, and even if we ourselves are still bad, we have reasons to live with joy. It is not because we find reasons for joy within ourselves, but because God expects it from us. The believer who trusts that God is near can always stay calm and give the witness of a serene joy. We find our joy, not in the things that happen to us, nor in what we possess, but when we live in God’s service.
The joy that God expects of us is not the fruit of our own efforts, nor the result of overcoming our difficulties. It is the joy of knowing that we are close to God, even in time of trial. It is the peace that comes from knowing that God shares our sorrows and our concerns. It is the joy of one who understands that the power of his hope comes from God and not from his own efforts. Our joy is not something we can attain by ourselves, but something only God can give. We can live happy lives, secure of things we do not yet possess. Christian joy is the joy of one who knows that God is greater than our need. This is the joy that no one can take from us, because only God can give it. It is the joy of knowing that we are his beloved children, even if we are not free from difficulty and temptation. What the world needs today is not just believers but happy believers, men and women who have faith and maintain hope, and live in the joy that God gives. Our faith demands of us tasks that are sometimes unpopular and sometimes incomprehensible, but they are tasks we must fulfil with joy. Unfortunately, we may be presenting a sad image to the world, a world that is very sensitive to the absence of joy. Why is it that people often see Christians as men and women going round with sad faces, constantly finding fault, always suspicious of strangers, keeping our distance from, if not actually condemning, people who are not like us or do not think like us? It is our task to convince the world today, and especially the young people of today, that happiness can be found in giving up what we already have. It is possible to live in peace with others without asking or expecting of them more than they can give. Joy can be had without depriving others of it. We don’t find happiness by making others unhappy. We will not be happy unless we share our happiness with others. We will not find the joy of living until we meet God.
This is, without doubt, the conversion that God asks today of all who are waiting for him – a return to the joy of living, the joy he gives us, because he is near, a joy that we can experience because we live in hope and expectation. Living in the knowledge that God is coming should transform our time of waiting into a time of joy. A life spent growing in hope is not a wasted or useless life. It should not be difficult for us to live in joy, if we are really looking forward to the Lord’s coming. Having him close to us will keep us resolute in preparing the way for him. If what we really desire is the Lord we are waiting for, nothing will preoccupy us as much as his coming, and nothing will give us greater joy than waiting for him. People who are concerned about God and his kingdom, should not be concerned about anything else. The joy of living makes all our waiting bearable, not because we already possess that joy, but because we know it is coming. And the day of that meeting with our God will be a day of extreme joy. We can live in joy without the Lord if we are truly waiting for his coming.