Introduction: Today’s Gospel continues where our passage from last week left off. John calls the crowd which has come out to him in the dessert vipers – or poisonous snakes! Not a nice thing to welcome those who have probably sacrificed a fair bit to come out in the middle of nowhere – having had to walk to get to him in the hot dessert heat. He is not interested in their applause. Instead he sees his job as that of a prophet, to warn the people that unless they heed what he understands God to be telling them there will be severe consequences. I believe John understands that in Ezekiel 33: 1 – 7 (p. 789- 790) where God warns Ezekiel that he is like a sentinel who either can warn the people of the coming army (sword) and if they ignore him their blood will be upon their own head. But on the other hand should he as a prophet fail to warn them then like the sentinel who fails to act the blood of those he is called to protect will be upon himself.
I) As John forcefully warns the people of the proximity of their God and the importance for their being made ready for the Messiah’s coming by first of all recognizing their wickedness and being profoundly troubled by their unpreparedness for his appearance.
II) Because they see themselves as safe because unlike those aliens or non-Jews, they have the benefit of knowing that God is on their side because after all they are offspring of Abraham. Genesis 22: 15 ff (p. 18), God declares to Abraham because of his willingness to sacrifice his only son to him he will bless not only Abraham but all his offspring to follow who will be as numerous as the stars in heaven and as the sand on the sea shore. John however tells them that God has the power to make offspring to Abraham from these rocks that proliferate the countryside. He has therefore no great stake in them should they fail to repent and bear fruit.
III) They are told that in order to bear good fruit they must be willing to give their extra clothing to the poor, feed the hungry and not take advantage of their position of power. In other words they must elevate their inferior neighbor to be as a family member of their own, no longer trusting that God has given them these gifts for their own personal use, instead realizing that they will be held to account for how they share what they have. We too have to ask ourselves how do we care for our neighbor and reach out to those who have less than we have.