Gospel of the Luke 3: 10-18
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?”
He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
I’m convinced that the principal cause of our suffering, of which many times we aren’t even aware, is the effort to find meaning in things: what does what I am living mean? What’s the point? It’s the deepest of questions while at the same time the most elusive. Finding the meaning of things seems crucial and yet, what it’s never perfectly clear what it is. Meanwhile, we press forward, without thinking about it too much, trying to convince ourselves that something good will come of this life.
Very often we confuse meaning with emotion: we seek stimuli, we try to numb ourselves, we try to buy comfort after comfort. Life becomes a void to be filled up.
But what takes away our joy is that one question that resurfaces every once in a while: I run and I run, but where am I going?
I’m not sure that happiness is something to be chased after. It seems to me that, as Frankl said, life, time after time, moment after moment, generously give us a task to fulfill. I have the impression that happiness is found in the harmony between the question from reality, that entrusts this task to me, and the patience of taking up the question and trying to answer it.[pullquote align=”right”]”The task, therefore, that a man must complete in his life is always apparent and it is never essentially unfulfillable.” – Viktor Frankl[/pullquote] It seems paradoxical, but maybe it’s the present itself that gives meaning to my life: what is the task that life is entrusting me with today? And the great discovery is that life never ceases to propose, generously, a task that seeks a response.
In Luke’s Gospel, people from all walks of life ask John the Baptist precisely this question: what should we do? Help us to understand what life is asking of us.
This is the very same question the Pope Francis raised in his speech at the Bishops’ Conference in Florence: “But now what is it that we must do, father? – you say. What is the Pope asking of you? It is for you to decide – pastors and faithful together.”
Sometimes (or perhaps always) happiness means living in a paradox and having the courage to inhabit it: to find God in all things is to find meaning where ever life places me. This is the meaning of the Beatitudes, paradoxical situation, in which we would not expect to be happy: poverty, weeping, hunger, injustice… They don’t seem like situations in which we can find happiness but sometimes they are situations we must assume (rather than merely support).
Even there we must ask ourselves: what is life asking of me?
We are invited to seek something positive even where it seems impossible to find: John the Baptist even says to the publicans and soldiers – those who dealt in money and arms, those who contributed to maintaining a system of injustice and oppression – that they ought not destroy what they are or leave their positions but rather that they should transform the situation in which they live.
So often we cannot change the situations in which we find ourselves but we can change the way we are within them. Your life is never a mistake, but perhaps the way in which you are living it.
Jesus does not even ask Peter or the other Apostles to stop being what they are. He does not ask them to cease being fishermen but to do so in a new way: you will be fishers of men.
What should we do?
Everyone has their own question because everyone finds their answer where they are. But everyone is asked to begin from a position of solidarity. The sin of humanity that cuts through every age is that of hoarding that which belongs to everyone.
Adam still lives in our society, that Adam that takes the fruit and wants to possess it for himself, that Adam that wants to be the master of the garden that belongs to everyone. The economy is the truest and most vivid image of the dynamics of sin: wealth that belongs to all is carried off by someone who considers himself a privileged beneficiary.
If there is a task for each person, there is also a task for all of humanity: start over from solidarity. Reality is asking us – is entrusting us with the imperative task – to seek within our human nature for the foundations of communion, the appeal to sharing, the ways of solidarity. If we do not respond to this task we will be guilty of a grave fault: that of reciprocally stealing each other’s happiness.
In fact, John the Baptist does not begin with the Spirit but with water: he begins from our humanity, he begins by restoring us to our humanity and that which we are first of all.
It is an anticipation of what Jesus will show us in the parable of the Good Samaritan: it’s not the priest or the Levite, despite the worship they had just celebrated, but the Samaritan who stops and helps – one man to another. Before our religiosity therefore, we find a deeper level that cannot be left aside: that of being human to other humans.
What should I do? That is the question that belongs to the man that wants to start again from his own humanity.
Advent Questions for Reflection:
– What is the task that life is entrusting me today?
Featured Image: The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery @ Flickr