Luke 3:10-14 (NIV) “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”
John’s words of warning hit home with many of the people. They were baptized, but they also wanted to know what the fruit of repentance looked like, the changes that they would need to make in their lives to show that their repentance was real. John did not pooh-pooh this idea, believing that baptism was all that was necessary. Instead, he gave them concrete things that they needed to do, none of which was too lofty or difficult to be accomplished.
To the average person, John pointed them to generous hearts, anticipating Jesus’ teaching that we don’t have to be grasping continually to amass more, but can be generous and giving, trusting God to provide what we truly need each day (Matthew 6:25-34). But to live that way requires repentance and a real change of heart, so that the one who has been selfish and focused on his or her own needs can see and respond to a brother or sister with a need that they can meet out of their surplus, trusting God to provide for them in return.
The tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people, partly because they were seen as shills for Rome, but mostly because they mercilessly squeezed the people for the taxes imposed by Rome, and grew rich on the surpluses that they collected. And since there were not itemized receipts, the people were never sure how much of what they paid was taxes, and how much was going straight into the tax collector’s pocket. John’s requirement for these men to demonstrate their changed hearts was to collect what was required, and to stop fattening their own purses with the blood and sweat of their fellow Jews. Again, this would require a renewed level of faith in God, that He would be able and willing to supply what they needed each day.
Even soldiers were there to be baptized. Many soldiers of Rome had become God-fearers, worshipers of the true God who had not yet taken the steps of conversion and circumcision. When these men asked John what was necessary to show fruits of true repentance, John did not point them to circumcision. That was a cosmetic thing that could be done without any heart change at all. Nor did he demand that they quit the military and stop serving Rome. Instead, he required that they deal justly with their fellow people, not exerting their authority to manipulate people and extort money from them through threats of false accusations, but being content with the pay that they received through the legitimate performance of their jobs.
For all three of these groups, John was pointing them away from their pursuit of security through more and more material wealth, which is a powerful temptation for people, even today. Instead, he directed them toward lives of contentment, faith, and generosity as visible fruit that would clearly demonstrate their changed orientation toward God and His kingdom.
Father, it is very easy for us to mouth prayers and give the right answers to questions about our repentance. It is much different to demonstrate our repentance through transformed mindsets and drastically modified actions and attitudes. But the transformation is essential to real repentance. Help my mind to always show a true kingdom orientation, and my actions clearly reflect a genuine kingdom lifestyle. Amen.