The word of God is not intended to merely be a collection of theological statements to be debated by the spiritual elite. As I was trying to figure out where to begin with this week’s article, I was listening to “Like a Match” by Toby Mac. The chorus is “If it’s real we gotta show it. Cause if it’s not, they sure gonna know it.” And then it hit me. That’s what I’m trying to say. The message of God is intended to be lived, not merely talked about. If you are a believer, you are intended to hit the road with the word shaping your path. And this is no easy task. It is radical change we are talking about it. There are real world consequences here. Are you ready to make your fruit bearing practical? Are you ready? Are you sure?
John told the multitude to bear fruit worthy of repentance. In John 3:10-14 the rubber meets the road. The crowd responds. They ask, “What does that mean for us John?” Map it out for us Locust Man. And then he does. If you have two tunic and come across someone who doesn’t have any, give him one of yours. The tunic would be the garment close to your skin. It could be worn by itself or with a cloak over it. Notice this directive is not aimed at the wealthy. That would be too easy. Then his audience could sit back and rest in the conviction that it was only those filthy rich people who needed to repent. This is aimed at the person who is a step above poverty; the guy with two tunics – one to wear and one as a spare, maybe to be worn while the other one is being washed, or to be kept for special occasions. So, if you have a spare set of clothes, or if you have enough food, share it with those who do not have. Don’t let your brother starve while pointing a finger at the wealthy who are better able to help. You give! Rubber hitting the road yet?
Some tax collectors were also there, wanting to be baptized, seeking forgiveness of their sins. Tax collectors were hated by most Jews. The whole business was fraught with greed and corruption. These were the people who were willing to become tax collectors even though they knew everyone would hate them. Some of them were truly greedy, loving money more than their neighbor. Some may have been desperate, unable to find anything else to support their families. And notice they are asking the same question, which implies a desire to know what they must do to change; to bear fruit. John does not tell them to quit being tax collectors. This was what many of the Jews would have advised. Quit being a traitor you greedy Gus. Most would have questioned whether you could bear fruit and remain a tax collector. But John tells them to stop extorting people. The word “collect” means “practice, experience, or collect.” When the context calls for a meaning of collect, it may imply collecting by extortion. Do not collect more than the established amount. Now, this was harder than it may first appear. John is asking them to buck the whole corrupt system. Everyone accepted that tax collecting involved greed and corruption. If they become honest and honorable, they may lose the only friends they have – other tax collectors. And how do you conduct business? Do you make excuses like, “That is just how business is done these days.” Rubber meeting the road yet?
Also among the crowd were soldiers. These would have been Jewish soldiers and they just may have been soldiers who were assigned to the tax collectors. If so, they were there to protect, but their main job would have been that of forcing the people to pay up. They are also seeking to know what it would mean for them personally to repent. They are to stop violently shaking people. Again, John is not asking them to stop doing their job. But their job should be shaped by God’s message. Stop the threats and the extorting. Stop reporting on people for pay. This was a real problem at this time. One ancient author described the people who practiced this as scorpions slinking through the market place, looking to see who they could sting. These soldiers obviously saw a lot of people as they guarded the tax collectors. They became skilled at recognizing who they could shake down with false accusations. Stop accusing people for money or even political reasons. And don’t make excuses. Rubber meeting the road yet?
The kingdom of God is near. How does that change you? The temptation would be to apply all the changing to the other person. Make it personal. What is God calling you to change. And notice that all of this has to do with relationship. One source argued that this is not about societal issues, but merely about relational issues. I disagree. The corruption and violence was a societal problem. Who are you going to be in the midst of your society? How will your relationships be shaped? Be radically shaped by God then.