Summary: John the Baptist calls us to share. If we follow his direction — Behold! The Christ is already among us!
The Patron Saint of Sharing
December 14, 1997 • Third Sunday in Advent (c)
“What shall we do?”
That’s the question asked of John the Baptist three times in this story.
The multitudes ask: “What shall we do?”
The tax collectors ask: “Teacher, what shall we do?”
And the soldiers ask: “And us, what shall we do?”
The question is their response to John’s preaching about the coming of the Messiah. “You better get ready!” he says to them. “Repent!”
“But how do we do that, John? What, specifically, are we to do?”
And so John spells it out for them. “Tax collectors and soldiers — you who have political and economic power —be fair and honest, don’t cheat, don’t steal, and don’t abuse your power.
“And as for the rest of you — don’t think you can call on your Father Abraham for salvation. Don’t think that being religious is gonna cinch it for you! No! You want to truly repent? Then share what you’ve got!”
John the Baptist is “the patron saint of sharing.”
“Repent! Get ready for the coming of Christ” he preaches.
And with the multitudes we ask: “How, John? What shall we do?”
And John answers: “Whether it’s a little or a lot, you gotta share what you’ve got.”
What an appropriate Advent message! Surely, this is what we need to hear at Christmas–time: You want to prepare yourself for the coming of Christ? Then share! That’s what true repentance looks like. By sharing we prepare the way for the presence of God among us — we open our hearts, our lives, to welcome the Christ, we welcome life.
And, conversely, whenever we refuse to share, we reject him and cut ourselves off from the source of life.
Last month Charlie Summers, the pastor of Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, wrote an op–ed piece for The Observer that I wish I’d written. Charlie stands in an interesting place. He’s got one foot planted among the poorest folks in Charlotte, for Seigle Avenue is in the heart of housing project ghetto. His other foot, however, is in Davidson, where he teaches at the college and rubs elbows with some of the wealthier, more well–educated, and powerful members of the Mecklenburg community. Let me read to you a little of his article:
What puzzles me is that our current national prosperity is coupled with such a meanness of spirit. Business is good, inflation is low, we are not at war (hot or cold). Yet instead of celebrating these good times with thankfulness and compassion, we find angry legislators pushing to cut off aid to dependent children. Talk show hosts belittling the poor for being lazy. Letters to the editor call for taller fences along the U.S. border and more prisons in the state.
The new “welfare to work” legislation from Congress is so cold it should be entitled “Here’s a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares”... “I got mine. You get yours”....
Stock values, CEO compensation and sales of luxury autos have soared in recent years. But the wages paid to poor people for long hours of work have barely moved. Now the prosperous are going to cut off even the few benefits that make up the safety net in our nation. Do the math. A full–time job (a rare thing in itself for low–income people) at $6 an hour pays only about $12,480 a year before taxes. How is a parent going to support children on a wage like that? No wonder so many poor people have to work two jobs just to get by.
This current climate might be called an era of “Grab.” If gratitude leads to compassion then grab leads to resentment. Grab asks, “Why don’t I have more? Why does that person have a bigger car, a larger house, or a better pair of Nikes?” Grab, in its resentment, looks for someone to blame....and the poor are easy targets. The national mood has moved from a War on Poverty to attacks on the poor.
Is Charlie describing our nation accurately? I think so. Is he describing you and me? Again, I think so — for even if we don’t blame the poor, which one of us hasn’t at least sometimes succumbed to the overwhelming desire for more, bigger, better material things? The problem is, we can never be satisfied. Better Nikes, newer cars, bigger houses, won’t fill the hole in our souls.
When we went to Haiti last year I took in my suitcase a camera, a camcorder, a tape recorder, several changes of clothes, two pairs of shoes, and a variety of personal items. The contents of that suitcase cost more than the average Haitian makes in five years. And that was in my suitcase.
If I’m hungry for more possessions, doesn’t it make sense to you that I’d better to consider the proposition that my hunger cannot be filled by more possessions? That it is really a spiritual hunger — an empitness in my soul that no amount of consumer goods will fill?