Looking at the readings for the second week of Advent, I must say how I love to see the vehemence of St. John the Baptist's reproach to the pharisees. The Holy Spirit knows when to speak gently and when to speak forcefully, many times using something said to one person to touch the heart of another.
Here any mediocre Catholic can put himself in the place of the sadducees and pharisees when he calls them "brood of vipers" and continues on to say, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father[...]’"
Whoa there John! A little bit intense, no?! How do you think you're ever going to get any followers with that mouth?! Now, as for us, before continuing his discourse, let's just pause here to let those words soak in. Is there a wrath that is to come? What does that mean? How did the pharisees know about it? Did they feel that it was coming for them, or did they just get in line for baptism to make it look like they too were repenting?
John the Baptist's whole message is repentance, and he tells them to make their repentance one that is seen by works, not something that just sounds good and feels nice. Then he says the equivalent to, "just because you are a good person doesn't mean that you're going to heaven. Just because you go to Mass doesn't mean you're a perfect person. Just because you don't go our partying every day doesn't mean that you have everything under control." The kingdom of God is at hand! Should you DO more? What you should do is open yourself more to the Holy Spirit and see what God wants to do in your life. At this moment and in the future. (And then do it.)
Well, moving along, it seems that the pharisees saw themselves as indispensable for God, that God wouldn't be anything without them. Do we feel that way as well? If by any chance that has gone through your head, St. John the Baptist assures us that, "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, in a testimony he gives of his conversion story, encouraging people to pray for priests, says that 'God can pick up a bum off the street and make him your next parish priest--He did that with me.' (Amazing story-- check it out!) God doesn't need us, but He does want to use us and gives us the responsibility of responding to what we receive.
Finishing up this part of the Gospel, St. John clarifies any doubt that may be left behind about a "wrath that is to come." He says, "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Usually, if not always, when fire is mentioned in the Gospels, it is referring to hell. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'"(1033). That's something to think about.
Where do you stand? Are you trying to get by with the bare minimum, while Jesus, able to save us with just a thought, is there on the cross? May this advent be a true time of repentance for us, and accept in every way the kingdom that is at hand.
Sunday Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
Come, Lord Jesus!