Brood of Vipers

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Advent 3 (year c), December 16, 2012
“What must I do?”

Ax laid to the root of the tree, detail of the Baptism of Christ, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372

Ax laid to the root of the tree, detail of the Baptism of Christ, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor’s Bible Historiale, 1372

John the Baptist says to the shallow and cynical side of my soul, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance… Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Luke 3:7b-9)

John the Baptist speaks forcefully to my unconscious collusion with the oppressive powers of my culture and society and our collective and my personal degradation of the environment. I can’t ignore that I live a certain life style at the expense of exploited people around the world who I do not see, who receive our garbage, our toxic waste, who supply us with cheap goods and services, working in slave conditions. I’m implicated in the powers that promote consumerism, monoculture, and unending short term gratification at the expense of earth and peoples and generations to come and even life itself.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” (3:10)

But John speaks gently to the humble, even the most hated inhabitants of his country. The sinners, including tax collectors and soldiers who nervously listen to John’s condemnation of the hypocrites, ask, What should I do? To tax collectors he says, “Don’t cheat.” To soldiers he says, “Don’t bully.” (Luke 3:10-14). To me, he says, “Just try.”

He invites me, and the tax collectors and soldiers and sinners to the Jordan for a ritual cleansing. He says,The One who is Coming, who is mightier than I, whose sandal I’m not worthy to stoop down and untie, will call you to leave your tax collector’s booth, he will forgive you as you pound his flesh into the wood of the cross, he will baptize you with fire.

Repent. Begin again. Do what you can. Now.

2 Responses to “Brood of Vipers”

  1. Lowell Murphree Says:

    Thank you for this reflection. It comes as a relief from the refiner’s fire of last week, but also as an irony. The rough man in the desert offers words of possibility, “Do what you can, now.” While He who is to come as savior will baptize with fire. I so often find inspiration for Sunday conversations with the part of the Beloved Community found in my little town in the tensions you draw out in the texts and in me. Thank you.

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