By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 3rd Sunday of Advent - on the Gospel
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What then Must We Do?

Zephaniah 3:14-18 Philippians 4:4-7 Luke 3:10-18

Two men, Charlie and Roger, got together and opened a butcher shop. The business did quite well and they prospered. One day a preacher came to town, and Charlie gave his life to Christ. He tried to persuade Roger to accept Christ also, but to no avail. "Why won't you, Roger?" asked the newly baptized Charlie. "Listen, Charlie," Roger said. "If I get religion too, who's going to weigh the meat?"

Roger has this going for him, that he understands that believing in Christ implies a radical change in personal and professional behaviour. Many people who identify themselves as Christians do not seem to get it. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 1987 in the USA, there is little difference in moral behaviour between people who go to church and people who don't. There is as much pilfering and dishonesty among church members as among non-members. There seems to be a widespread misconception among Christians that we can add Christ to our lives without subtracting sin. Accepting Jesus as one's personal Lord and Saviour is seen as a matter of changing one's belief and not much to do with changing one's behaviour. How many times have you heard street preachers say, "Only believe, and you will be saved?"

In today's gospel we have the rare opportunity of listening to the preaching of John the Baptizer. "So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people" (Luke 3:18). John's preaching of the good news has two principal components: (a) the invitation to live a Godly life, and (b) the invitation to believe in Jesus the Messiah.

The Invitation to Live a Godly Life

This appears to be the emphasis in John's preaching. Various groups of people who heard John preach responded by asking, "What then should we do?" (Luke 3:10, 12, 14). To the crowds or the masses his answer was: "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise" (verse 11). Accepting the gospel demands a change in one's personal conduct. One becomes a person who loves to share, rather than a person who loves to accumulate.

To the tax collectors John answered: "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you" (verse 13). And to the soldiers he answered: "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages" (verse 14). To them he enjoined honesty and fairness in their business dealings and professional conduct. The gospel is a leaven that affects every aspect of our personal, business and social life. To repent is to turn from evil and do good. "Only believe, and you will be saved" is at best a half-truth.

The Invitation to Believe in Jesus the Messiah

To accept the gospel, however, does not mean simply to strive to be a good person. It means above all to be a person of faith, a person who believes in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. The people to whom John preached were beginning to mistake him for the Messiah. If they did so, they would be mistaken in their belief, their zeal and goodwill notwithstanding. It is possible for a believer to be full of goodwill and zeal for the Lord, to be blameless in both personal and professional behaviour, yet be in error in his or her beliefs. An essential part of imparting the good news is to point out possible errors in belief and help the believer to move from an imperfect and naive to a more perfect and mature knowledge of the doctrine of Christ. This is what John the Baptizer did.

The tendency among us Christians today is to emphasize the belief aspect at the expense of moral behaviour. For John, however, change of behaviour came first, before change of belief. The synthesis of John's preaching was, "the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15). For him repentance, turning away from selfishness to a Godly behaviour, precedes and accompanies belief.

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of God to His people in the birth of Jesus, let us call to mind that the basic problem with Christian faith today is that we profess to believe but do not match it with practical behaviour. This self-contradiction constitutes a stumbling block for would-be believers, who are often attracted by the person and teachings of Christ but are turned away by the behaviour of those who claim to be his followers. John prepared his people for the coming of Jesus by challenging them to mend their ways and believe his message. We cannot do better than that. The best preparation we can make for the birth of the Lord is to repent and guide our behaviour by the selfless teachings of the gospel. This is what is needed today to make our faith perfect so that we can stand with heads raised high in joy at the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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