Luke 3:7–18 (NRSV)
Verse 7John 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? Verse 8Bear 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. Verse 9Even 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." Verse 10And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" Verse 11In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Verse 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" Verse 13He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Verse 14Soldiers 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."
Verse 15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, Verse 16John 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. Verse 17His 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." Verse 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
The imagery in this reading is harsh and vivid: “The ax is lying at the root of the trees, those who do not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.” Understandably, the people want to know how to avoid such a fate. The answer is deceptively simple: by sharing. If you have two coats, give one away. Share your food with those who are lacking. Though a simple commandment, it is difficult in practice. We are amazingly good at justifying why we shouldn’t or can’t share. What if I need that extra coat? What if I run out of food? Or even more insidious: Maybe that person who is going without is not really deserving of that coat or that food.
However, we are not the judge of the universe. We are not commanded to assess whether someone is deserving—we are simply commanded to share.
Gracious God, we pray that you bless us with a generous spirit. That you help us to overcome our human nature to judge and hoard, and to simply give because it is what you command. Amen.