The Most Reverend Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Third Sunday of Advent
December 13, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“What should we do?” Luke 3:10
St. Luke presents us with an intriguing scene in today’s Gospel. John the Baptist has been preaching a baptism of repentance. As with anyone who repents, we want to know what it is we must do to change our lives. So the question comes, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10).
Two particular groups are singled out. The first are tax collectors. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were contract workers. They hired themselves out to the Empire or the taxing government, making their money by charging commissions. Obviously the temptation to overcharge and to stuff their pockets was great. So John the Baptist answers them and says, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed” (Luke 3:13). The tax collectors have to change their ways. They cannot repent and pretend that it is business as usual. The second group is soldiers. When they ask what to do, John answers with a laundry list of issues. “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:14). Many soldiers in the Roman army were mercenaries with conflicting loyalties. The innocent population was often at their mercy. John reminds them that their mercenary practices must stop.
One thing strikes us about John’s preaching. He was very serious. In a few verses just before the ones we just read, John tells the crowd coming to baptism, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:7). Can you imagine a priest or minister saying that to his congregation today? But John’s approach is not a typically antiseptic and sugarcoated American approach to religion or conversion. If you want to repent, then you have got to change.
In this insistence, John the Baptist is the perfect Advent voice. We need Advent. We cannot go directly into the candy cane joy of Christmas without realizing that God’s grace is meant to transform us. John tells us to stop fooling ourselves. If the thief wishes to repent, then he must stop stealing. If one wishes to end the bondage of pornography, then one must remove the temptation. If one has lied himself into a mess, then he must face and accept the truth. If Advent teaches us nothing else, then it must teach us this.
I have heard it reported that the day after Thanksgiving, the day commonly called “Black Friday,” fights have broken out at malls between shoppers wishing to check out first or how shoppers have camped out all night to purchase the latest electronic equipment. When I venture out into the streets to do the little shopping that I do, I am not surprised. I really wonder what people think Christmas is all about. The shepherds ran to Bethlehem when they heard the news of Christ’s birth. Now we stampede to the mall to buy an iPod.
Much of what we do is so far from the true meaning of the season. Like the crowds in the Gospel, we come to be baptized but we refuse to change. We want the consolation of religion without the sacrifices it requires. We dare not ask the question, “What must I do?” because we know the answer will be too challenging. We would rather have our “Happy Holidays” with the latest gadget and take our chances.
For me, I would rather sit quietly and have Christ tell me what in me must change. Let John the Baptist answer the question, “What must I do?” and let me take the advice. I do not wish things to remain as they are, and when all is said and done, it is I who must change.