The past two Sunday’s lectionary readings have dealt the John the Baptizer narrative in the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptizer is recognized as the caller/preparer for Jesus. Last week’s reading painted John the Baptizer as an Elijah type who called out in the wilderness for people to repent of their ways. Politically and socially minded people should first think of repentance as changing one’s ideology or converting from one belief system to another. Yet, John the Baptizer was pushing (as Jesus did) for a different way of life, a change of mind, body, and spirit, and for people to change the direction of their society to be shaped by God’s kin-dom.
Today’s lectionary reading, Luke 3:7-18, read as follows
“John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”
John the Baptizer called for a fair society. His good news was triple fold. First, all people will have the necessities to live, e.g. a coat for all, a place to call home. Second, there is one coming who will give a more monumental baptism of fire and God’s Spirit. Lastly, the good news for the one coming will be even more topsy turvy than what the Baptizer was claiming. John the Baptizer called for fairness, but
Jesus preached beyond fairness,
all the way to the radical notion of justice.
Jesus was calling for the kin-dom of God. Where love will be as common as this world’s violence. Where people go beyond tolerating their neighbors and love them. Where as the ancient prophets who preached that cities will not be built on injustice, but built on peace with architects, labours, and bosses treated with dignity in pay. Injustice will not find its home in the kin-dom. Praying for enemies and reconciliation will abound in conversations, and people. The people will co-create society focusing on justice rather than profit and gain. God will be the Light, which keeps darkness away. And yet, the kin-dom of God is still coming and not fully realized yet.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School makes us recognize even more so that the kin-dom of God has not come. During this Advent Season, we are told to wait, to have patience for Christ’s birth and the Eschatological End. What happens when it feels that God is not coming fast enough? How are we to react?
One answer comes from the minor prophet Habakkuk. First some background. Habakkuk’s oracles were concentrated at the the end of the 7th century, 620-600BCE. Judah was caught in the middle of two Empire-builders: the Babylonians who were gaining strength in numbers, and the Egyptians who were friendly with Judah, but did not side with Judah in their most desperate times. Habakkuk’s cried out:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Habakkuk complained to God that God is not listening to him. He poetically proclaimed for justice, for the end of violence, and that God’s Law* may be respected and followed. The Kings of Judah after the great revivalist Josiah, who coincidentally during his time found Deuteronomy, were his children who were political puppets of Egypt and eventually Babylon. Josiah was brutally killed in 609 BCE. Jehoahaz, Josiah’s eldest son,reigned for three months then was disposed. Jehoiakim, Josiah’s second son, followed and lasted for 11 years. Josiah’s two other sons, Jehoiacin and Zedekiah, were the last Kings of Judah until the Exile in 586 BCE.
In the midst of tragedy, Habakkuk did not hold back from calling God out. Essentially, Habakkuk called God an old blind person, who did not see the injustice happening. Habakkuk’s response resonates with the emotions that I felt on Friday. Since I work with youth, I kept thinking to myself “Why would anyone want to hurt the little ones?” I know that many children around the world are killed, especially by the hands of the U.S. Empire. Yet, my context has me bound to the U.S.. If I were to see all of the horrible tragedies that happen each day, I could not handle it. So I must take the Sandy Hook massacre at upmost importance and fight for this to never happen again in the U.S. and around the world.
Today in Sunday School, I lead the youth in a prayer walk for those involved in Sandy Hook massacre. We walked to stations titled Healing, Wholeness, and Redemption. We prayed to be the change in our society so these tragedies never happen again. We prayed for people with mental illnesses that are beyond anyone’s control. After the prayer exercise, I quoted Frederick Douglass who said “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Let us wait for God, not by sitting in the pews, but by being co-creators for the kin-dom of God. Let us also not be afraid to question, challenge and pray frantically.
I feel sorry for those who come up with answers to tragedies in a flash. Those who claim Christ, and have an answer to theodicy are only fooling themselves. To read through the book of Job and come out with a satisfying answer is fanciful. The students and teachers of Sandy Hook were brave to see that terror and still be a sane human. We must be empathetic and know that theologies fall short when it comes to theodicy and it’s okay to accept that. Remember this: God always sides with the oppressed.
*Most of the Law/Torah was not written until after the Exile, 538 BCE. Habakkuk is certainly referring to the book of Deuteronomy.