'What Should We Do?'
by Rev. Robert Wagner
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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 that 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.
During this time of the year, many of us find ourselves welcoming family and friends into our homes, and thus are familiar with the practice of “tidying up.” This includes tasks like putting the toys and books that may be lying around back in their place, running the vacuum over the carpet one more times and a number of other things to make our homes more attractive.
Why do we do this? On a superficial level, we want to give a good impression of ourselves and the way we keep our homes. On a more charitable level, we want those who enter our home to have a good experience and to know that we value their presence so much that we go out of our way to be sure the house is clean, ordered and beautifully decorated. If we keep this charitable mindset that allows us to see that we are offering something good to someone that we value, our cleaning becomes less tedious and more joyful.
In these first weeks of Advent, we have heard of the coming of the Messiah, mostly focused on the second coming. John the Baptist tells his followers, “One mightier than I is coming. 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.” With these words, the Baptist describes the power and authority of Jesus Christ, who will come to judge the living and the dead. As we can imagine, this adds a sense of urgency to those who are listening. Someone important is coming. They need to tidy up.
But how? This question is on their mind, and we hear different groups ask the Baptist, “What should we do?” How did they prepare for the Messiah? How can we prepare?
John the Baptist’s responses to his disciples 2,000 years ago still are relevant today. His first command to prepare for the Lord is to serve those in need: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” In serving the needy by sharing what we have, we both recognize the dignity of the other and acknowledge that we ourselves are blessed to have what we do. The divine source of both human dignity and human blessing is the same. To prepare our hearts for the coming of God, then, we must be both generous and thankful.
The second way to prepare for the Messiah is a conversion of our lives from sin. John the Baptist tells the tax collectors to stop stealing and the soldiers to stop extorting and lying. When we are engaged in sinful behavior, we cannot give our hearts fully to God, and thus when the Messiah comes, He will find that we are unfit to welcome Him. With God’s help and our will, we must root out all that is not godly in our lives.
We can add a third way of preparation to these as well: the sacraments. John baptized with water, but the One who followed him baptized with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” This is a reference to the sacrament of baptism, which frees us from sin, brings the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and makes us children of God. It is also the sacrament that prepares us to receive the other sacraments of the church. As we encounter Jesus Christ in each sacrament, welcoming Him into our lives, we must remember to always be prepared. In particular, as Advent is a time of preparation, let us take this time to tidy up with a thorough examination of conscience followed by a sincere confession of our sins to a priest.
Like tidying up the home, these preparations may seem like a lot of work. We must remember, however, that when we focus on the honored guest who is to come, even the most difficult task becomes one of enjoyment. As we prepare for the coming of the Lord this Advent season, let our hearts be filled with joy.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index