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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Today's Scripture Reading | Matthew 3:1–12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 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. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (NRSV)

Whew John the Baptist! He isn’t preaching like your typical Presbyterian! His words come across as harsh, even though I admire his passion for declaring God’s good news—even to the point of calling out the problems he sees. Yet I can’t help but relate to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Not because I am a pastor, but because I know when I hear someone yelling at me, I’m quick to be dismissive and defensive.

As Christians though, we know more about John the Baptist’s life and how he paved a way for Jesus. His life matters to us. This leads me to wonder then, what if I were to focus less on how some words sting and more on the needs under the words people say? What if I were to hear more their message and not make it about me?

John the Baptist must have been angry. He lifts up Isaiah’s reference to the pain of those who cry out in the wilderness. John notices people suffering, and the religious leaders must not have recognized those suffering to the level that John saw God desiring. Therefore, I hope the religious leaders listened to John’s words and learned from them. I hope this moved them to change their past behaviors and advocate for those suffering.

This passage moves me to better listen to the cries of people, the anger and pain under their words. It’s not about me personally, but it is about me listening and learning from people crying out. It’s about me looking at my life and adapting it to better respond to the concerns of those crying out.

Liberating God, help me hear the messages of people crying and shouting out. Help me listen, learn, and act—knowing that we are all connected through you. Amen.

Written by Abbi Heimach-Snipes, Pastoral Resident

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