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Third Sunday of Advent — Joy - a gift to be received

In today’s Gospel there are three groups — the people, the tax collectors, the soldiers — who go to the Baptist to have concrete directions. They ask, “What should we do?” 
 
Let’s imagine that one of us, eager to prepare well for Christmas, asks this same question to those we consider “experts” in the field of religion (catechists, pastoral worker, the nun, the priest). What would they tell us? 
 
Someone would suggest to help a brother who is in difficulty or to visit a sick person. Others: “Recite the rosary every day”; “Pray three Salve Regina before going to sleep”; “Go and confess” ... But for John, there were no religious activities but something else to say. “If you have two coats, give one to the person who has none; and if you have food, do the same.” He focuses on the new relationship that must be established with the neighbour. Love, solidarity, sharing, removal of inequities and abuses of power are the key words of his speech.
 
The first group is of the tax collectors. They enriched themselves by extorting money from the weak and defenseless. The Baptist does not ask them to change profession, but not to take advantage of their trade to exploit the poor.
 
We may think of not having anything to do with this profession. Instead — let’s face it — we act as “tax collectors” when, for example, we reach a prestigious position, we demand a very high pay for our performance, perhaps citing as justification: “These are the set rates.”
 
The publican is the symbol of one who casually handles money. He is also one who, with clever scams, manages to fool the simple people, evades taxes, weaves fraud against the state, and exploits the poor’s ingenuity to enrich oneself. Whoever acts as a “publican” certainly cannot prepare for Christmas only with a few prayers.
 
The soldiers are the last to ask the Baptist for advice. We would expect that John would ask them to immediately throw their arms and refuse to fight. But he is “tolerant.” Jesus will be more radical and will prohibit any recourse to violence. He will say to the disciple, “Do not oppose evil with evil; if someone slaps you on the right cheek, you turn and offer the other” (Mt 5:39).
 
The soldiers are the symbol of those who may abuse their power. Whoever profits from his occupied position, the profession one exercises to dominate or overwhelm the weakest behaves like a bad soldier. He is invited to review his behaviour if he wants to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
 
There are many joys that are not Christian. The Baptist points the way to fill the heart with true joy: to prepare the coming of the Lord in their lives by sharing goods with the poor and by the rejection of any form of abuse of power, of overwhelming and insincerity to the brethren.
 
● Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications
bibleclaret.org
 
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF