December 8, 2019, Second Sunday of Advent. A reflection on Matthew 3:1-12
Today, we have lit the second candle, of love, in the advent wreath having two candles now lit together with the candle of hope. Last Sunday, we have emphasized that advent season or the advent is not only the preparation for the celebration of the nativity of the Lord Jesus, the Christmas, but is also and foremost the anticipation for the coming again of God who will judge us according to our faith expressed in our deeds.
As we lit the candle of love, we heard a warning from John. While baptizing those who listen to him and confessed their sins in the river Jordan he saw Pharisees and Sadducees coming and we have these words from him, “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.”
Who were and what were the role of these Pharisees and Sadducees in the time of John and Jesus?
The Pharisees were mostly middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. Though they were a minority in the Sanhedrin and held a minority number of positions as priests, they seemed to control the decision-making of the Sanhedrin because they had popular support among the people. The Sadducees on the other hand composed a loose political party and a religious coalition. The high priests in the Judean religion were most, if not all, Sadducees. They were generally the wealthy aristocrats. They are afraid of the Pharisees and often vowed and collaborated with them. Together with the Scribes, these Pharisees and Sadducees were the men of power in the society whom Jesus rebuked according to the records, chapter 23 of the gospel by Matthew. One of the most important achievements of the revolution that Christ brought to the traditional Jewish faith of His day was to free people from the unbearable load that was placed upon believers by the ‘church’ of His time — by the Pharisees and Sadducees, the scribes and priests, that made up the ruling council of the Hebrews, the Sanhedrin. (Reference: https://bit.ly/387mCqC, https://bit.ly/38cqd6l)
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (v8). Even if John used hard and harsh words and descriptions against the Pharisees and Sadducees, he was not closing the possibility for them to repent and bear good fruits from it. It was just right to ask everyone to repent including the Jewish leaders – they were hypocrites, the most sinner, corrupt officials of the religion and the land. John did this as he prepares the way of the Lord.
What could be the fruits of repentance? In the Bible, we can see examples of repentant sinners to mention a few. In Luke 7, we have a repentant woman who did to Jesus what was to be done to a guest in the house according to the Jewish laws and customs whom Simon, the host Pharisee denied Jesus. In Luke 19, we can have the repentant tax collector Zacchaeus who aside from following Jesus after their conversing encounter has to give to the poor a huge part of his wealth and possessions and to return four times as much from what he cheated. We also have two popular figures Peter who after repentance had to follow and lead the apostles in serving the people and preaching the good news and Paul, a Pharisee himself whom after conversion on the road to Damascus had to follow Jesus and became the apostle to the Gentiles.
The center of Jesus message is love. It is in love and because of love that we have a celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus the messiah the incarnate Son of God. It was love that Jesus taught His disciples, the society, and repentant sinners who followed Him.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him will not peril but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Beautiful! Yes, it is love. Yet, this same love that brought Jesus on the cross. In his letter, John said, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1-John 3:16).
Are we ready to love and face the consequences like what happened to Jesus, the disciples and followers? Can we be like John who uttered harsh words against the powerful leaders of the society, yet asked them to repent and bear fruits of repentance?
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope and love by the power of the Holy Spirit! Amen.
Until next for the Third Sunday of Advent.