“You brood of Vipers! (Luke 3:7-18)” They didn’t even bother to defend themselves. The “power elite” among them, soldiers and tax collectors alike, all asked of John; “What then should we do? You know that you have someone’s attention when people start asking questions. This I believe is always a good thing because without dialogue people never fully understand one another. More than anything, God wants the crowds to understand that while he is to be in the midst of his chosen people, their birthright has lost its dialogue. Who but the spirit of this “wild man” from the wilderness, a marginalized son of a priest with nothing to lose, to get their attention? What I find notable in this scenario that we are presented with in this dialogue between John the Baptist and the “power players” is the hint of consciousness in those who have lived well at the expense of others. Willingly they place themselves among the poor perhaps believing that they would go unnoticed. Or, perhaps believing that to not present themselves among the people might speak volumes about who they claim themselves to be as ancestors of Abraham. Nevertheless, they are mulling the possibility that if John’s message is true, that the Kingdom of Heaven is near – regardless of the controversy that John raises concerning their livelihood, they want access to that Kingdom! That is until they realize the sacrifice they would have to make, which many did.
I’d like to talk more about the word access. A major part of John’s ministry I believe was about making access to God for the people of Israel attainable. Some may say that it was always attainable and while this may have been true at some point, evidenced by their question of “what must they do,” the people of Israel had forgotten how. God’s access to his people had become corrupted. Very much like a virus in our computer that corrupts access to important files, the Internet and ultimately to one another, or a business without access to the web losing access to its clients and customers. Because of corruption and abuse God was losing access to the people of Israel and subsequently everyone else who might come to believe in Him through them. Today, this word access comes up more times than we like to admit but the reality is that nearly every controversial issue in our lives has to do with access. We debate access to jobs, employment, medical care, education, money and most recently and probably most emphatically about access to defend ourselves against our neighbor. Needless to say, in terms of who what when and how, all of these areas have become political issues for us today. All of these accesses represent this country’s liberties so much so that there is no shortage today of people wanting to enter in to this country to participate in these liberties that we from birth take for granted and on occasion abuse. It seems to me that access has become so sacred to the point where before we question its equality, level of restrictiveness, or disparity among the people in this country, when something goes terribly wrong we are quicker to question (in many cases blame) and move to focus our attention on natural human environments like mental illness, human capacities and inexperience. In particular, for tragedies like the shootings in Newtown Connecticut, the lack or perhaps in this case, excessive abuse of access to the liberty of bearing arms is disregarded or held unaccountable. Politically speaking, access is a double-edged sword and in a civil society we are constantly having to ask our selves do we want to control the people or do we want to control the liberty. Too often we choose to control one without consideration of controlling the other. Ironically, we created these liberties for our selves in order that we all have an opportunity to pursue dreams and happiness, yet we fail to understand or ignore the fact that the loss of a life because of a liberty is the loss of a dream fulfilled. In my mind, no liberty will ever be more important than saving a life.
This in part is John’s message for the power elite of his day and the same message for us today. To the lay John responds, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ To the tax collector, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you’ and the solders, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ The coming Kingdom that the people of Israel have long awaited, and the kind of world we, and others whom strive to enter, is about saving lives, living into the fullness of the Creator’s dream. The corrupted temple sacrifices, lengthy disheartened prayers, and the multiple cleansing rituals of John’s time have about as much value before God as the senseless “blood sacrifices”, lengthy back and forth conversations and multiple politicking over liberties has before us today. Thus, the straight path into that salvation requires that we make decisions that favor relationship and compassion for one another over self-serving pursuits. One has to wonder if we have become a society of modern day Corinthians. If that be the case today, it is incumbent upon us to read again Paul’s letter outlining the one liberty that God so freely bestows upon us (1 Corinthians 13:1-13) and remember that a Christian society is called to do likewise. Love. From a Christian point of view, our relationship and compassion for one another takes precedent over our absolute control over steadfast protection of such liberties, when they contradict or conflict the New Commandment to love God and love neighbor as self. Which of the lay, soldiers and tax collectors among us today will be willing to make the sacrifice. I believe our access to God today is just as critical as it was 2000 plus years ago when the forerunner for our spiritual salvation came that all who believed could be redeemed and reconciled with our Creator and one another. How many more forerunners do we need? “And we, what should we do?” Our action today is just as critical. More than ever it seems quite clear to me that no political maneuvering is necessary. Assuming what is written within our hearts, we remember that we have the capacity to love. Our lives and the lives of all our posterity depends not only on access to but our willingness to make full and just use of Love, this politically unwritten law and yet the only enduring liberty.