Thursday, April 7, 2005

Luke 3:1–14

The preaching of John the Baptist gets short shrift, and so it’s good that we pick up Luke at this point. John is his own person, not just a forerunner to Jesus, he is a true prophet, he is Elijah who was to come.

He tells the crowds that they cannot look to Abraham as their ancestor as a guarantee of salvation. This is radical stuff, because the people relied on God’s promise to Abraham as the guarantee of their own secure place in his kingdom. But John says that the promise was to Abraham, not to them, and that God can keep his promise to Abraham without giving them anything: “I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

So it’s turned around: instead of focusing on their Abrahamic pedigree as the guarantee of their own place, John tells them to focus on their own actions, and not just on their ancestry--literal, or spiritual ancestry, we should add. If they behave like Abraham, they are his children, but if they spurn the right path, it won’t matter a hill of beans who their ancestor is. And, pace the Protestants, and pace St. Paul in Romans 4, John tells the crowd how to be children of Abraham: by right and moral action.

People today should note that John the Baptist does not tell the crowd anything about sex, or anything about religion. He tells the crowd that if you have two coats you must share with anyone who has none; the same for food. Tax collectors--collaborators with the occupying enemy state--have a place, provided they stop asking more than is right. Even the Roman soldier--good grief! is just anyone</i> being allowed in?</i>--can have a place, provided he cease using his power as a way to extort money.

So it’s a moral command, but it’s a moral command that is not about the maintenance of the existing social order. We see a foretaste of Jesus’ own hobnobbing with tax collectors and prostitutes and occupying Romans; Jesus tells us elsewhere that the prostitutes were also down at the river with John.

The so-called Christian Right had better start taking this to heart. They cannot count on their spiritual pedigree, their religious correctness, their (pretended) purity, even (dare I say it?) their faith in Christ. These will not save them. God can make new people better than they out of the stones any time he chooses. But if they turn back, repent, receive grace anew, and start bearing fruits worthy of repentance then they have a chance. And what’s the fruit? They need to start welcoming all as John did, they need to start explaining how everyone--even the most apparenty evil--have a place in God’s kingdom, and they need to start sharing with those who have none.

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