“When [John] saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.'” (Matthew 3:7-8, NRSV)
One quality I like in a person is that they tell me where I stand and don’t try to play games with my mind. Although, I’m really not into the nasty hurtful ways people approach me on certain things. There are ways to tell someone something without being obnoxious about it. I suspect John the Baptist might have fallen into the latter category. He was pretty harsh with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Sure, there were some corrupt, arrogant, dishonest, scheming men (no women allowed) among them, but they weren’t ALL that way.
Maybe it’s just that, being a pastor, there is the knowledge that I am among church leaders, and I wonder if John would see me in the same way. With all the scandals that show up about clergy misconduct in the media (and those that go on through the church grapevine), I don’t think clergy are exempt from being corrupt, arrogant, dishonest, or scheming (or at least painted that way). However, I also don’t want us to all be cast into the same category with the idea that just because some are like that, then ALL of us are like that.
Maybe John is actually addressing the entire company of believers who are led by the Pharisees and Sadducees. If we were to go hear him speak at the nearest lake wherever we lived, I wonder if the message we might hear from this eccentric, odd, in-your-face prophet for our time is that the Church (meaning all of us in the church) assume that we have a special place in God’s world and are privileged. Maybe we pass judgment too quickly, act in ways that show hypocrisy, assume too much, neglect to bear fruit – oh, yeah! Didn’t Jesus say something about bearing fruit? Hmmm.
We miss the point if we become too important in our own minds, if we think we have the right to judge others, if we fail to be inclusive of others in our churches and in our world. We have not only the responsibility, but also the opportunity to bring Christ to the world through our actions. WE are the bearers of the message of God’s love, and it often is WE, the Church, who need to repent and turn our lives around again and again and again. Faith and growing in discipleship is a process – for a lifetime. No one arrives at heaven’s gate flawless, but we are made whole in Christ through the grace of God in our lives. We can work toward wholeness in God’s love in our lives as long as we live.
John’s message to us is that we need to be alert, watch for Christ’s presence, and we, too, are not worthy to carry his sandals. However, through Jesus death and resurrection, we receive forgiveness, and in our baptism, we are charged with following Christ, to be his hands and feet in this world. That’s a tall order. Maybe there are times when we could be called a “brood of vipers,” but there are also a lot of times when we quietly do the work of Christ in the world. So, even though there are times when John would be in our faces, I suspect that Jesus would simply say, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” May it be so.