Wow, Luke’s idea of good news is not my idea of good news! John the Baptist’s kind of good news most of us could do without! Winnowing forks indeed!
Zephaniah told the people about a time when things would be better, and Paul told the Philippians to rejoice, and the canticle is about joy and salvation. In what way do we need John the Baptist in this mix? “You brood of vipers,” a lovely way to greet people who have come to hear him preach.
Yet, maybe there is some correlation among the readings today. “I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; ... ” And, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone, …“ And John the Baptist said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. … Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you. … Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.” John was speaking to the general population, the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers.
I’m thinking on that last one about the police officer recently convicted of raping women who were under his authority. There was a commentator on a news report who noted that police officers in the US often have minimal training and are not paid very well but this does not allow the police or soldiers to abuse their power. Most of the police officers I know--and the soldiers--would not do this sort of thing. But, as we know, some people are drawn to positions of power because they want to feel they are more important than other people, that they can do what they like--even harm others--with impunity.
So, having two coats--I don’t even know how many coats I have--is also a place of power, a place of comfort. I have more than I need so I am better than the person who has nothing. What’s the matter with them? Why can’t they work for what they need? Why can’t they hold onto assets and wealth? Oh, you mean they have not had the opportunity to gain wealth? So, what’s the matter with them?
I offer the thought that merely living in comfort is a position of power and that John’s words “MUST share with ANYONE who has none” leaves no argument that giving is not required and no argument that only some should be helped. St. Mark has distributed several checks that will help people in need and those funds came from all of us. There are wonderful people in our communities who are willing to go out and meet those who have nothing--or very little. Who are willing to ask directly, “Do you need help? How can I do that?”
So, that winnowing fork and the threshing floor: I believe the chaff that will be burnt away is the part of ourselves that is imperfect--the part of ourselves that is selfish--the part of ourselves that is sinful.
The good news is we are also the wheat. We are also the helping hand. We are also the givers of coats and food. We also see those who are in need and it doesn’t matter who they are.
They might be the inebriated Native American sleeping in the doorway who just lost another relative to death, the child in foster care who was sexually abused by an uncle, the child of someone incarcerated here in Montesano, the heroin or meth addict who lost his children to the state, refugees from war and poverty, and the list goes on. All of these are worthy of receiving if they have nothing. John the Baptist doesn’t apply a litmus test to giving. Share with anyone who has nothing.
And that is the real good news!