This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 3:10–18:
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
Author’s embarrassed note: Through a series of circumstances, including having the wrong readings in mind for the last couple of days, today’s Sunday Reflection will be brief — or at least briefer than most. Clicking the correct day on the missal calendar would help in the future. Anyway, I had a great concept for today’s readings … when I thought it was from Matthew, like it was yesterday.
We’ll worry about that one another day, but fortunately for me, worry is part of the motif for today’s readings. It’s been one of those weeks, and some readers might know exactly what I mean in this season. The stresses and confusion of the holidays sometimes find themselves into every corner of our lives, even when we’re stressing over the good things, like Advent and time with family. Bills pile up, complications set in with family arrangements, and suddenly we’re anticipating headaches more than the coming of Christ.
All three readings today touch in some way on anxiety, and what the Lord wants for us in its stead. Our first reading comes from the prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied at a time when anxiety might have had a purpose. Roughly a century earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, never to rise again, and not long before the Babylonians came after Judah and Jerusalem. Rather than committing themselves fully to trusting in the Lord, both kingdoms became more focused on worldly power and alliances and fell victim to greater worldly powers than themselves.
And yet, Zephaniah doesn’t give a prediction of utter destruction in today’s first reading. Instead, he tells Jerusalem that the Lord had “turned away your enemies” and “removed the judgment against you.” Zephaniah urges, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!” and to sing out in joy. Paul writes the same thing to the Philippians, instructing them to “have no anxiety at all,” and to “rejoice in the Lord always.”
Why is this? Both men are urging their listeners and readers to keep their trust in the Lord rather than in the world. For those who trust in the Lord, the world and its currents matter little in the long run. What matters is the love of God and our embrace of His will. Had the kingdoms of Israel and Judah adhered to that, they would not have fallen at all — just as we can say about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden too. When we put the world above the Lord, we begin to sin — and when we sin, we create the conditions where anxieties consume us.
John the Baptist’s exhortations to the baptized reflect this too. What does he tell the people flocking to him in the desert? Quit hoarding. Share with your brothers and sisters. Be satisfied with what you have. Luke explicitly notes John’s indictment of tax collectors and soldiers for their abuse of power and authority for their own enrichment. Even beyond these two groups, though, John is telling people to stop valuing the material world over the love of God and the love of neighbor, in this case very pointedly and directly.
Why do people hoard? They do not trust in the Lord to provide for them. Does hoarding and miserly behavior make them any less anxious? Quite the opposite; such behaviors lead to even greater envies, suspicions, and worry about the loss of their hedges against the future.
But the world isn’t our future, John the Baptist makes clear. Eternal life with God is our future, and the world doesn’t provide guarantees for salvation. Why worry about that which will not matter at the end of this life anyway? Be satisfied with what we have now and spend those efforts to prepare for salvation instead. In that we should have no anxieties, for our faith in the Lord will allow us to rejoice in the eternal Jerusalem. All we need to do is prepare for His coming, as we do every Advent season.
Just make sure you have the right date on the calendar. I’ll be worrying about that for the next few days, you can bet …
The front-page image is a detail from “Communion of the Apostles” by Luca Signorelli c.1512. Currently housed at the Diocesean Museun of Cortana, Tuscany. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.