159. Basic Training (Luke 3:10-20)

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“… So far as I am concerned, to die in Jesus Christ is better than to be monarch of earth’s widest bounds. He who died for us is all that I seek; he who rose again for us is my whole desire.”  St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyr

Luke 3:10-20: He said, therefore, to the crowds who came to be baptised by him, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruits, and do not think of telling yourselves, We have Abraham for our father because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Yes, even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire.’ When all the people asked him, ‘What must we do, then?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one 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 your 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!’ A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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 in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them. But Herod the tetrarch, whom he criticised for his relations with his brother’s wife Herodias and for all the other crimes Herod had committed, added a further crime to all the rest by shutting John up in prison.

Christ the Lord Many great teachers and leaders have come and gone throughout human history, but there is only one Jesus Christ. Even John the Baptist, whom Jesus later called “more than a prophet… the greatest of those born of women,” can only “baptize with water.” In other words, he can only work with souls on a natural level, strengthening them in virtue and helping them understand the requirements of a good life, but that pales in comparison with what Christ does. Jesus “baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In him, we come into contact with God himself, and we are completely transformed (as the saints testify), just as fire completely transforms whatever it burns. This is why he is the Messiah, the “anointed one” sent to fill the breach that sin opened between God and man. No one else can be the Messiah, because no one else can bridge that infinite gap. His coming into our midst is an utterly unique event. St Luke wants to make that clear – over and over again – so that we stop taking it for granted.

SanJuanBautistaElGrecoLienzoHacia1600y1605Christ the Teacher Often John the Baptist is depicted as an ill-tempered, fire-and-brimstone preacher who scared the people into repentance.

  • First of all, such a conception fails to explain how he was able to attract such huge crowds and win over so many hearts.
  • And secondly, it neglects the main point of his message: that salvation is at hand. Salvation, friendship with God, the fullness and security of living in communion with our Creator and Redeemer, of being “gathered into the barns” of his eternal and sublime Kingdom… this is John the Baptist’s true message.

John teaches his listeners how to please Christ, how to live in communion with the God who wants to save us. His lesson is nothing new (though his personal integrity gives it new weight); he merely applies the Ten Commandments to the particular situations of his hearers. He appeals to the demands of justice and the demands of humility – we are not to take undue advantage of anyone, and we are to help those in need. How different the world would be if everyone followed these simple directives! And how open our souls would be to God’s grace if we would combat our selfishness in these apparently trivial ways! Often people reject Christianity not because its theology is too difficult to comprehend, but because its moral demands are too basic. Isn’t it much more romantic and titillating to perform esoteric rituals and commune with invisible forces through crystals and spells than to be honest and hardworking? And yet, the glitz of pseudo-religion can’t nourish the soul. The real path that leads to life is steep and narrow, as Christ himself would put it later, but why would we want to take any other?

Christ the Friend The human heart longs for a purpose and a joy that no earthly experience can supply; John brings the Good News that Christ is on his way, and that he can provide our hearts with everything they yearn for if we will accept his offer of friendship. Indeed, it is in our ongoing, growing, changing, maturing, personal, relationship with Jesus that our yearning souls will find what they seek. The Christian life is a journey with Christ. The Christian answer to the human heart’s search for happiness isn’t a drug or a pill you take once in order to enter into an altered state of bliss. The human heart is made for greater things, and the adventure of friendship with Christ will gradually show us what they are.

The heart of this adventure consists in following Christ’s example of self-giving, of emptying ourselves, of putting ourselves at the service of Christ and our neighbors. When it becomes our way of life, this Christian charity, this giving away our tunics and sharing our food, leads us to discover the meaning and joy that Christ came to give, which only experience can describe.

Christ in My Life Why is my life not as fruitful as the lives of the saints? I know you have called me to real holiness, and I believe that the fulfillment I long for will only be found there. But something is still holding me back. I want to see your glory, Lord. I want to experience your love and your greatness so thoroughly that my whole life is polarized around your Kingdom, and all my pettiness and selfishness falls away…

Okay, Lord, I believe in you – you know I do. And so I believe the lesson of this Gospel, that I can fulfill your dream for my life simply by living out my normal activities with responsibility, generosity, and faith. Help me to take my sights off some abstract, pie-in-the-sky holiness. I want to love you in the here and now of my life. I know I am not worthy even to untie your sandal strap, but you have given me a chance to serve you by doing all things as you would have me…

If I found myself completely alone, I wouldn’t quit, because I would still have you. If I found myself kidnapped and thrown into prison, I wouldn’t panic, because you would still be with me. If I found myself drowning in failure and rejection or submerged in endless pain, I wouldn’t despair, because even there your friendship would be my meaning and salvation…

 

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

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Art for this post on Luke 3:10-20: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), El Greco, circa 1600-1605, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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