Sunday, December 16, 2018
Third Sunday in Advent
It is right there in today’s Gospel – that question that we human beings have been asking since time began: “What should we do?”
Sometimes the question is about small things like, “What should I wear tonight?” Or, “What should we have for dinner?” Sometimes, though, the question is around really big things like, “What should I say to my children who no longer go to church, or who say they don’t believe in God anymore?”
“What should we do?”
We are in good company today with the people that posed that question to John the Baptist. They knew they needed to make some changes in their lives. And they knew that John the Baptist would give them straight answers to their question, “What should we do?”
To the first group John the Baptist replies, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Where do we fit with this? Think for a moment about how many coats, how many jackets, how many sweaters you have right now that maybe you haven’t worn in a while and perhaps don’t even have room to store.
Saint Basil the Great said, “The unused coat in your closet belongs to the person who right now is cold.” Maybe we can share some of our things to keep someone else warm this winter.
The tax collectors ask him, “John, what about us? What should we do?” John very simply responds, “Stop collecting more than is prescribed.”
What does that mean for us who may be tempted to save and store everything “just in case we might need it one day”? Maybe God is nudging us to get serious about the biblical prescription of tithing: giving 10% of my income back to God in gratitude, with 5% going to the Church and with 5% going to other charities, to enable God to bless other people through me.
I remember someone being shocked when I suggested that he consider tithing his earnings. “Ten percent?” he exclaimed. “That’s a lot!”
To which I replied, “Well then think how huge the ninety percent is that you get to keep!”
The soldiers ask, “What about us? What should we do?” John the Baptist says, “Do not practice extortion. Do not falsely accuse anyone. And be satisfied with your wages.”
What does that have to do with us? Well, how do I use my speech? To judge others? To gossip? Or to build other people up? Am I greedy and envious, or am I grateful for what I have received and ready to share some of it with others?
“What should we do?” Or a better way is to ask, “What should I do?”
Often we know very well what we need to work on, and so does everyone around us. But sometimes there are faults known only to us and to God. We try to keep them secret. Maybe they are embarrassing or make us feel ashamed. And yet, with God’s grace, we need to work on them too because they get in the way of our becoming better versions of ourselves.
“What should I do?”
I will leave you with a very short story that comes from Native American lore. It is about an Indian grandfather who was giving some advice to his grandson. He said, “Inside each person there are two wolves: one is a wolf of love and sharing, while the other is a wolf of anger and greed. They struggle within us all the time.”
The boy asked, “Grandpa, which wolf will win?”
The grandfather’s response would have made John the Baptist smile with approval. He said, “Which wolf will win? Whichever one we feed.”
“What should we do?” “Lord, what should I do?” Help me to know what it is and give me the grace to do it.