Third Sunday of Advent, Year C: Luke 3:7-18: Change of Heart

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

John is baptizing huge crowds at the river. He speaks harshly to them, calling them snakes and telling them to change their hearts and lives. They ask him what they should do.

He tells them if they have two shirts, they should share with someone who has none and to share food, too.

Tax collectors come and ask what to do and he tells them not to take more taxes than they are supposed to collect. Soldiers ask what to do and he tells them not to extort people for money by force.

People begin to speculate that John was the Messiah, but he tells them he baptizes in water but someone is coming who can do much more.

I am not good enough to be the slave who unties his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Luke 3:16 (Easy-to-read version)

He continues to preach and baptize, calling on people to change and telling them the Good News.

This week of advent we see the importance of John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus, as we prepare our hearts for his arrival at Christmas. John emphasized repentance, a changing of the heart, and its evidence was in our behavior and good works. We are to share what we have and not use our privilege for evil. The emphasis is on love and caring as opposed to grasping and greed. Go and do likewise.

Second Sunday of Advent, Year B: Mark 1:1-8: Baptizing in Water

Advent wreath with 2 burning candles

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s passage is from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. It starts with quotes from both Isaiah and Malachi (though only Isaiah is credited in this passage) about a messenger preparing the way for the Lord. Then he goes on to talk about John the Baptist, who indeed prepares the way for Jesus. John was out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River–calling them to repent of their sins and change.

Baptism was probably not a new thing at the time. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible mentions that Many Jewish people were also familiar with a sort of baptism associated with conversion, a once-for-all kind of turning.” It likely relates to other Jewish purification rituals. For John, baptism preceded repentance and turning your life around to follow God.

John emphasizes also that he was only the precursor to someone greater. He baptizes with water, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

He prepares the people for Jesus who will soon come after, and puts people in the right frame of mind to accept what Jesus will bring them.

Proper 21, Year A: Matthew 21:23-32: A Question

Jesus portrait on fresco of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, from 4th century in Mtskheta, Georgia. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 21, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus has returned to Jerusalem. While Jesus is walking in the Temple area, some religious leaders come up to him and ask him what authority he has to do these things (these things meaning his main activities of teaching and healing and forgiving).

As he so often does, Jesus responds to a question with a question. There’s a nice teaching tip for teachers out there–challenge your students with a question in response. It’s what my favorite professor often did.

“I will ask you a question too. If you answer me, then I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Tell me: When John baptized people, did his authority come from God, or was it only from other people?” 

Matthew 21:24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The leaders didn’t know how to respond. They knew if they said that John’s authority was from God, he would ask why they didn’t believe John, but if they claimed it wasn’t from God, the people would be angry because they revered John.

Tricky question, so they said they didn’t know.

So Jesus tells them that he won’t tell them who gave him the authority.

 

Jesus follows this up with another vineyard parable. This one has a vineyard owner with two sons. He tells one to go and work in the vineyard. At first he refuses to go work, but later he goes. Then he tells his other son to go and work in the vineyard. That son says he will go work, but he doesn’t go. Jesus asks which of the sons obeyed their father. The religious leaders responded that it was the first son.

Then Jesus slams him with some hard truth. (This is the kind of story that really makes me love Jesus.)

“The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God’s kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him.” 

Matthew 20: 31b-32 (Easy-to-Read Version)

 

Jesus is comparing them to the outcasts of their society. They think they are the most correct and religious, but they are actually worse than the worst. In fact, those they think are the worst are closer to God than they are, because they believed in John and repented, while the leaders would not change.
How is this relevant to us today? Don’t be caught up in your religious trappings and believing your way is the best way. Be open with your heart and open to change from God.