Luke 3, 10-18
And the crowds asked him, "What then 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 Messiah. 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 strings 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.
"And the crowds asked him, ‘What then 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." (cf. verse 10-11)
Today's Gospel is preceded by John's call for repentance. Lk 3:9 says: "Already the axe is laid to the root of the trees." Judgement is therefore near and it is therefore high time to become aware of God. John's listeners react to this sermon in an affected way. But how do we react to this word? Do we also come to John and ask: What must I do? Or do we listen to his words, go back to business as usual and continue to live just as superficially as before? But this is, after all, the word of Jesus. The word they heard has already judged them. Judgment runs throughout our lives, depending on how I have accepted this word of God and let it affect me. We should question ourselves again and again.
The people who have heard John's sermon are in any case affected and ask him what they should do. John then gives them a sermon on their status, so to speak, i.e., he explains for each status individually what repentance means for them. First of all, these are quite "normal" people who have families and work in their professions. John does not separate conversion from earthly occupation. He does not ask anyone to give up their profession and live in the desert like him, but he sends everyone back to their vocation and profession. There they are to bear fruits of conversion.
That is very decisive here. For many people believe that when it comes to conversion, to turning to and deciding for God, they have to give up everything and start something completely new. John, however, does not make his personal vocation the norm for others. We have already seen this in last Sunday's Gospel. His listeners are not to live in the desert like him, but where God has placed them. That is why he sends them all back to their status and profession. There they are to repent; there they are to bear real fruit of repentance. But the real fruit of repentance is love. It enables the sharing of garments and food. That is a core sentence of this Gospel.
"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.’" (cf. verse 12-14)
Now the tax collectors, who collected for themselves everything they demanded from the people and were therefore considered cheats and extortionists, come to John and ask: "And we, who are officially considered sinners, what should we do? And even to them he does not tell them to give up their profession, which was reprehensible in the eyes of Jewish society, but he instructs them that they should only demand from the people what was due under the law and no longer extort from them. The soldiers were usually not Jews, but pagan soldiers of the Roman occupation forces. But some of them also come and ask John: What shall we do? To them John replies that they should not abuse the power they have as soldiers. They are not to mistreat and harass the people. And they are to be content with their pay. So also, to them he does not say: Give up your soldiering! but: repent and bring forth fruits of repentance as soldiers, in your station!
John thus calls for all to give up their sins of status. The people are not called to poverty as John lived it, but they are called to give and share. It is not the money business that makes the tax collector guilty, but his thievery and taking advantage of his position. And the soldiers are not deprived of their weapons, but are merely prevented from extorting people and using violence against them. For Jesus is coming into this world of business and customs. And he comes into a world where there are soldiers to keep the peace. So, each one should bring fruits of repentance in the place where he is placed. Ultimately, of course, this is also our question to John: What are we to do as Christians, we religious, married people, priests or people in the various professions: What are we to do in our profession and in our vocation? And what are our sins of profession? Where is love violated in our profession? Where do we not share - our knowledge, our gifts and abilities from God, our money, our time, etc.?
"Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 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 strings of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.’" (cf. verse 15-16)
John knows that the baptism of repentance is actually only the beginning, that a new power must be added to make new life possible. His baptism is therefore a promise: "I baptise you with water. But one stronger than I is coming, and I am not worthy to untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (cf. verse 16) So, the Holy Spirit will be the new power that comes.
The longing for the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer and Saviour of the people of Israel, was very great at that time, because the conditions at the time of Herod were dire. In our time, too, conditions are not exactly rosy, but: Are we expecting the returning Christ, our Saviour, as he has promised himself? Do we really expect him? Or do we expect completely different "Christs"? It is frightening how today, even in politics, false Christs are secretly expected to change the world with "spiritual power". In the field of New Age and esotericism, for example, everything revolves around the expectation of a false Messiah. Many no longer expect the Christ who was promised to us, who will come again in the midst of chaos and create a new world order. Who in politics or even in the Church really still expects this Christ in our messy situation, which is certainly no less bad than that of Herod's time? People were expecting the Messiah. But what kind of Messiah do they expect? Here we too should again examine ourselves carefully. So, today's Gospel again reveals many things - but do we also draw conclusions from it?
John does not consider himself worthy of slave service to the One who is coming, namely Christ. He is not worthy to untie his sandals. And although thousands listen to him and follow him, he is pleased when they ultimately do not remain attached to him, but leave him and follow the greater One, namely Christ. He points to Christ. He wants to decrease; Christ is to increase. But is that also our attitude? After all, we are all called to be apostles, to prepare the way for God, for Christ, in the hearts of the people around us and in the whole world. But how do we see our John ministry? Do we let people go? Are we happy when they leave us, when they forget the herald and follow Christ completely? Or are we then jealous or even offended? Do we want to keep them for ourselves? Let us examine ourselves!
"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." (cf. verse 17)
While verse 16 speaks of the Holy Spirit and of fire, that is, of the gracious judgement that cleanses and purifies, John now clearly points to the last judgement in this verse. So, there are two different fires being spoken of here. In the never-extinguishing fire of the last judgement, the chaff will burn up. This is the image of the last judgement, which destroys those who have withdrawn from the effect of the healing fire, sanctification.
But sanctification is the way of our life, and it happens as through fire. It is a purifying path. That is why there is no holiness without ascesis, i.e., without denying myself things, without renouncing out of love for God, without fighting and struggling out of love for God where mistakes creep in, where addictions arise in me. This is then the purifying and healing fire of grace, but only if I participate. But if I do not accept this purifying fire and do not allow its healing effect, then I am given over to this destructive fire.
The person of Jesus will therefore separate the wheat from the chaff, no one can get past him. Everyone must decide for or against him. We notice this very clearly everywhere today, also in our own lives. In the real proclamation of Christ, there will always be a tension between divine judgement and fullness of grace. The appearance of Jesus brings neither a cheap grace nor a superficial judgement, but it demands from me a total surrender. It demands that I allow myself to be purified in the fire of grace. It is not a cheap grace. It costs me something. It is a final judgement.
"Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people." (cf. verse 18)
While John says many other things to comfort the people, he proclaims above all the good news of the coming of the Lord, through whom all that John expresses in the sign of baptism comes true: cleansing from sins and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Let us again seriously examine our life advent on the basis of today's Gospel: What about my professional duties and my professional sins? John, what must I do? On the basis of today's Gospel, we can give ourselves the answer to this question. ∎