Father God by the power of your Spirit let these words be to us the Word of Life. Amen
Last week we heard how John the Baptist came to the people of Israel like a mock exam – to show up where they needed to change before Jesus the Messiah arrived. John’s message was simple – “Repent!”
Today Luke gives in our Gospel reading some specific examples of what John meant – and isn’t it interesting that the 3 examples Luke records are all about money and possessions!
To the crowd, he teaches radical equality of ownership. If you have 2, give one to someone who has none.
To tax collectors he teaches honesty and integrity – only collect what the person’s tax liability is. In an age where the tax collector survived mainly on the difference between what he charged people and what he passed on to the Romans, that was a pretty challenging ask.
And to the Roman soldiers, he taught contentment with what they had – don’t agitate for more pay, don’t use your power to extort money from the people – no backhanders, no bungs!
All this teaching about the way God wants us to understand and use whatever wealth we have, as evidence of our repentance, reminds me of a famous saying you may have heard, “The last part of a person to be converted is their wallet” (or purse, or Debit card).
Also of course it reminds us of Jesus’ teaching: Do not worry about what you will eat, drink or wear. Your heavenly Father knows you need these things. Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these will be given to you as well.
Jesus also teaches the danger of accumulating wealth “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”.
Today, John the Baptist’s message has renewed force. Radical sharing, contentment and integrity are to my mind even more needed in this now grossly unequal world – in matters of personal and national economics, as well as in addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. The old economic model, whereby we elect the party that promises to make us the most better-off, has surely had its day.
That sounds scary! Dare we, instead, intentionally become poorer? Dare we deliberately turn growth into cutback? In many ways, it is being forced on us, as for example fuel costs soar and National Insurance contributions rise to fund social care. But choosing it as a policy – and voting for it – requires a sea-change of expectations, real repentance, for us and for future generations. It is one I believe we must embrace.
It is indeed scary. And yet. And yet…. Perhaps it can be beneficial.
St Paul writing to the Church at Phillipi uses words we know so well, “The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ”.
But we often miss the words that come before, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.
That peace, wished to and by us in so many services and on so many Christmas cards, has a condition attached – “Do not be anxious”. If you desire peace from God, hold loose to possessions, money, and time, status, privilege, even life itself. Instead, seek that which is eternal.
It is often the case that faith thrives when people are poor. If we dare to take seriously John the Baptist’s message, we, who as a society are so affluent that we have no need of God, by deliberately embracing a model of less rather than always more, may yet find the pearl of great price.