Today’s reading from the Gospels, Matthew 3:1–12, doesn’t seem particularly Christmassy. Not in the ‘presents wrapped under the tree’ sense.
“1 2 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea.
“(and) saying, ‘Repent, 3 for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ …
“…When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees 7 coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance…..”
(Matthew 3:1–2, 7–8)
We’ll be getting to the familiar “Christmas story” two weeks from now. That’ll be Matthew 1:18–24, when Joseph learns that he’s involved in a very special mission. About that, apparently Joseph didn’t try to talk his way out of the assignment.
Moses, in the ‘burning bush’ interview, said “but” three times — Exodus 3:11, 13, and 4:1.
He said he wasn’t much of a talker in Exodus 4:10; and asked God to send someone, anyone, else in Exodus 4:13.
He got stuck with the job, anyway.
Isaiah wasn’t exactly thrilled at getting special attention, either. Jeremiah tried to talk his way out of being a prophet, and engaged in a frank discussion or two about his assignment later on; and that’s another topic. (Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 1:6; 20:7–18; 15:18)
Salvation and Vipers
John the Baptist is called “the Baptist” partly because he baptized Jesus. (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11)
John balked when Jesus wanted to be baptized, and for good reason.
He knew who — and what — our Lord is. The Son of God did not need baptism for himself. Our Lord’s baptism was a gesture “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:13–15; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1224)
“Salvation comes from God alone,” but baptism is important, too. (Catechism, 169, 620, 1213–1274)
So is recognizing that I need to be saved, and that gets me back to St. John the Baptist and vipers. He wasn’t telling the “brood of vipers” to come back with baskets of produce. Folks were being baptized “as they acknowledged their sins.” (Matthew 3:6)
“The Whole Law and the Prophets”
A footnote explains that Pharisees were huge fans of the law. Scribes, experts in the law, were generally Pharisees.
The Sadducees were priestly aristocrats, mostly found in Jerusalem. They were gung ho about the law, too: but only what’s in the Pentateuch. They didn’t like the rest.
No wonder Pharisees and Sadducees freaked when Jesus showed up.
Our Lord boiled “the whole law and the prophets” down to ‘love God and your neighbor.’ We see that in Matthew 22:35–40. Jesus didn’t show them the deference they’d gotten used to, either. (Matthew 16:1–4; Mark 12:17; Mark 12:24)
I’m guessing that not all Pharisees and Sadducees were clueless. Gamaliel showed good sense in Acts 5:38–39, and that’s yet another topic.
Acting Like Truth Matters
Matthew 7 starts with pretty good advice:
“1 2 “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
“For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”
Jesus talks about false prophets and fruit in Matthew 7:15–20, winding up in Matthew 7:21–27 by comparing the wisdom of building a house on a rock or on sand. That bit starts with this warning:
” ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, 10 but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
That make sense to me. I don’t see the point in believing something is true, unless I act as if it matters. It’s like James1 wrote:
“You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.
“Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?
“You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.”
“Works” is what happens when I love God, and my neighbor, as I should; and see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43–44, 22:36–40; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 6:31, 10:25–27, 29–37; Catechism, 2196)
Sin and Holy Willie
When I do or think something in a way that offends reason, truth, and God; or fail to act or think with love; I sin. (Catechism, 1849–1851)
That happens more often than I like.
When it does, I could congratulate myself that I didn’t indulge in the “drinking bouts, orgies, and the like” cited in Galatians 5:21.
Or I could go full Holy Willie, asking God to smite folks I don’t like, while glossing over my own shortcomings. That sort of sanctimonious hypocrisy is a bad idea, and I shouldn’t do it. (Matthew 5:21–22, 23:1–12; Catechism, 2262, 2468)
Instead, I figure acknowledging that I messed up makes sense. Happily, the Church recognizes that we’re all sinners. And, like it says in the Apostles Creed, I believe in the forgiveness of sins. (Catechism, 827, 976–983)
Recognizing that I’ve sinned won’t do much good if I stop there.
“After John had been arrested, 8 Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
” ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ ”
Ongoing Inner Conversion
God is merciful, and expects us to show mercy.
“Like a drop of sea water, like a grain of sand, so are these few years among the days of eternity.
“That is why the LORD is patient with men and showers upon them his mercy.”
“Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel, for the LORD has a grievance against the inhabitants of the land: There is no fidelity, no mercy, no knowledge of God in the land.”
“For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
I’m not a particularly spectacular sinner. I haven’t robbed a bank, murdered someone, or anything like that. But my low-profile lapses in living as if love matters add up. I recognize my need for mercy.
Getting baptized was an important first step; in my case, done while I was an infant. What I’m doing now is an ongoing inner conversion. It’s not just navel-gazing. I’m expected to live as if my repentance is real. (Catechism, 1422–1470)
And that’s yet again another topic.
More; mostly about love, mercy, and getting ready:
- “Advent and Being Prepared”
(November 27, 2016)
- “Celebrating Mercy”
(November 21, 2016)
- “Mercy: Still Practicing”
(November 20, 2016)
- “Satan Didn’t Make Me Do It”
(November 13, 2016)
- “Sin, Original and Otherwise”
(November 6, 2016)
1 This James is likely the one mentioned in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. (Introduction, James, New American Bible)
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Just shared on Twitter and my FB page. Great stuff, Brian.