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. And, the poor would have heard this message and recognized it as bringing relief for them.
People who have power over others, like the tax collector and the Roman soldiers, would take advantage of those in their control. We see that today, too. A knee on a neck, putting incarcerated people in dangerous settings, and denying the rights of marginalized people.
So, having two coats is also a place of power, a place of comfort. I do have two coats and more clothes than I can wear before I do my laundry. I have more than I need so I might think 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. Our St. Mark community helps people in need and those funds come from all of us. We support people 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, 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, the mother in recovery who just lost her only child to an overdose, and the list goes on. All of these are worthy of receiving what we have to give.
The good news is that there is help for the poor and that we have the opportunity to be the givers and sometimes, the receivers. //John the Baptist doesn’t apply a litmus test to giving. Share with anyone who has nothing. And that is the real good news!