Matthew 3: 1-12
Artists often let their imaginations run riot depicting John the Baptist. His hair is wild; his face emaciated; his clothing ragged. You can imagine this figure speaking passionate words of prophetic challenge to his society.
Images of Pharisees and Sadducees, on the other hand, are usually more; conventional: well-dressed, respectable people, reliable pillars of society who hold responsible positions and who are recognised as folk of solid faith.
Insiders and outsiders? John’s words suggest that the boundaries are reversed. He is at the heart of this story, the one who is so close to God that the power of the Spirit can flow through him as he baptises. He is the centre of a great crowd of people who come to him longing for freedom from their sins and a clean start.
Yet the Pharisees and Sadducees are not shut out from the community of the baptised. There is room for them too, but not in the way they expect. There is no automatic right of entry for these establishment figures, but if they turn away from complacent self-confidence they will find room in the kingdom of God. The ‘good fruit’ they are invited to bear comes from their connection with God, allowing God’s life to flow through them. It does not grow from their own skill in religious practice but from God’s grace alive within them.
Some of us have been involved with church for a very long time! Maybe we also need to hear the challenge which John flings at the Pharisees and Sadducees. There is room for us in God’s kingdom not because we are persistent attenders at church, but because God loves us and is willing to welcome us into that crowd of people who came to John, and then to Jesus, looking for freedom and a clean start.
Revd. Dr. Caroline Wickens
Lord, help us to put our trust in you
as the one who gives us the grace to turn away from complacency
and live in dependence on you,
the source and goal of our being. Amen