“Towards the encounter” Advent
3rd Sunday of Advent – Year C
The Gospel of this third Sunday of Advent continues after a few verses of the passage from last Sunday, in which John the Baptist was presented. Now we see the crowds talking with the prophet. This dialogue goes on with that “race of vipers” that John uses, the invective towards men “generated by the vipers,” children of the serpent, of lies. Our world is populated by evil, by sons of darkness, by lies. After saying that, every man will see God’s salvation, John the Baptist brings out evil, the cry of the Earth and of the poor.
And therefore the people, scandalized by these words, start to question the prophet. The prophet does not have the task of predicting the future, but he helps people to understand the present, to give meaning to the contradictions of the world.
Three categories of people question John the Baptist: crowds, that is, common people; the tax collectors, that is, those who get rich through taxes, hated by everyone; and the soldiers, that is, the expression of weapons, the violence. Everyone asks: “What do we do?”
The same question we ask ourselves every day, in our mistakes, in our doubts, in our freedom. Animals have no free will, they act by instinct, and they are never wrong. People, on the other hand, find themselves at a crossroads every day, and more than once. Intelligence and will to understand “what to do.”
John’s answers seem minimal, almost banal: wear a tunic, don’t steal too much, don’t engage in violence. These seem obvious answers, we almost expect that an “eccentric” like the prophet who used to eat grasshoppers and dressed in wild skins must be more revolutionary, somebody vehemently opposing the power.
Instead, the answers undermine our way of life: dressing and eating, primary necessities, where you can experience a new economy of fraternity. No more “to each one his own,” in which the law is imposed by whoever wins, through money and weapons. This concept of justice is denied by John: whoever has two tunics, should give one to his brother. Here lies the justice of God, incomprehensible to people.
Live with sobriety, don’t hoard. The goods of the planet are for everyone, they do not have to be used to divide us, but should be used to create a true communion! Why wage wars to accumulate oil, to devour the planet’s resources, and defend ourselves from other people to possess such richness? When we learn this, the world will change!
He does not contest taxes, not even the Roman dominion which could ensure justice, but he asks that taxes serve the common good! Furthermore, weapons can be “right” if they serve to maintain justice.
St. Francis manages to go even further when he refers to Christ and his integral message:
The Lord commands in the Gospel: “Take heed, beware of all malice and avarice and guard yourselves from the solicitudes of this world, and the cares of this life.’ Therefore let none of the brothers, wherever he may be or whithersoever he may go, carry or receive money or coin in any manner, or cause it to be received, either for clothing, or for books, or as the price of any labor, or indeed for any reason, except on account of the manifest necessity of the sick brothers. For we ought not to have more use and esteem of money and coin than of stones. And the devil seeks to blind those who desire or value it more than stones. Let us therefore take care lest after having left all things we lose the kingdom of heaven for such a trifle” (Fonti Francescane 28, the collection of original writings of St. Francis and St. Clare).
What to do? In this Advent the questions about our economy, about goods, about power open up. Do we really want the common good? An economy of fraternity? Do we really want it?
John is very successful, and they wonder if he is the Messiah. His response is stupendous: I baptize you in water, a sign of death; whoever comes after me will baptize you with Spirit and fire, a sign of life. God fulfills our humanity by meeting us in our limit, through his judgment, by eliminating the evil.
The fan blows away the chaff, the superfluous, and saves the grain. On the contrary, we do the opposite operation with the sieve. We fixate ourselves on the defects of the other. So let us continue to walk towards this encounter, with the desire of a truly better world, enlightened by the Word of God. Happy third Sunday of Advent!