Why were the Pharisees and Sadducees going to John? We know that people from all over Judea, Jerusalem and the entire region around the Jordan were responding to his message of repentance. People were acknowledging their sins and their desire to follow God with their whole hearts, minds and souls. We know the Pharisees considered themselves righteous. So their motivation to go to John could not have been to acknowledge their sins.
Was it curiosity about him, what he was doing or about who was being baptized that brought them out that day? Did they want to question him to find out more about his message? We just do not know the answer to why they were there but we do know that God is teaching us something about ourselves though their appearance. John in his day was a messenger opening eyes and hearts to encounter God’s love. We too are recipients of John’s message if we only take the time to listen to what God is saying to us. All too often we enter into discussions about the why or what about scripture and the lessons God desires us to learn eludes us.
It is amazing to me how we are easily sidetracked into needless quest trying to understand our faith. It reminds me of the passage where Jesus warns us how many will come saying this is the way but he warns us not to follow them (Mat. 24:5). There is only one way to the Father and John understood that so well that his message had no room for compromise. There is no place in John’s message for a “just follow the rules kind of faith.”
John’s message was simple – repent and believes in such a way that you change your life. That was his message and people responded so when the Pharisees show up John demanded proof that their lives were changed. He wanted to see a change in every aspect of their lives for more than a day or a few weeks.
He is literally saying, “show me evidence that is visible to not only God but to everyone around you that you have changed.”
Think of all the times Jesus chastised the Pharisees and you can see in their life and in yours all the things we need to change to satisfy the call to “turn back to God?” I will tell you John was talking about more than doing some “good works” or attending more “church programs.” John understood God desires us to change in significant ways so that all will know we are believers. This is more than being faithful in church attendance or doing good works. It is growing in the certain knowledge we are forgiven and by being bold witnesses of our faith.
Repentance does not mean we can voice the words and neglect changing our hearts. It is not in saying we believe but it is in acting on our belief. It is not in saying Jesus died for our sins; it is in believing and living in a way that shows we have been changed by his dying for our sins. It is embracing the grace God’s love offers us and allowing that grace to change us. We can easily change how we act or behave but to truly change is to die to self and to discover God’s plan for our life.
I was watching the news after Black Friday and was once again stunned by the frenzy to satisfy self by “the stuff” we buy. We strive to find our joy in other things while the King of Kings freely offers us joy beyond measure.
Many will hear this gospel today and quickly forget it because it does not pertain to us – it is about a crazy evangelist and long dead Pharisees. We will dismiss it because we are the faithful Catholic’s who are in church each week and our sins are not horrific – we do not have to repent over big sins. We have reached a comfortable place in our faith and the call to repentance does not resonate with us because we believe we are ok with God – not perfect but ok.
Here is the question we should consider – are our imperfections ok with God. I am not talking about becoming more and more scrupulous about trying to please God. I am saying God has promised that he would change our hearts. We need to embrace the Holy Spirit and allow him to change us instead of us trying to change ourselves.
The Pharisees thought they were ok with God because they scrupulously followed the laws of God. Yet they are the very ones from whom John the Baptist demanded proof that showed in their lives. Following the law only proves we are disciplined. If we were honest with ourselves we will admit that within each of us we have a lot of Pharisee ways in living our Christian life.
God offers a life with a sure and certain knowledge that we with all our weaknesses are acceptable to God. If we do not allow the Spirit to change our hearts and minds we will miss out on the fruit of repentance. We will miss having the love of God poured into our hearts, we will miss having peace in the midst of turmoil, we will miss being flooded with joy even as tragedy strikes us and we will miss understanding how salvation cleansed us of sin.
I urge you to listen to the words of John as he invites you to “Prepare the way of the Lord” and every day of Advent say this simple prayer – “come Lord Jesus, come and be born in my heart.”