The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10)
The people came to St. John the Baptist, asking for basic moral guidance.
St. John gave specific answers to the various different kinds of people who asked. In each case, he outlined the basic form of an upright life.
Are you wealthy? Keep only what you need, and give the rest to those who have less. Are you in business or government? Then make sure all your dealings are fair and lawful in every way. Put in an honest day’s work, and be satisfied with what you are paid—no bribes, no schemes. Do you carry a weapon in the name of public peace and security? Then carry it peaceably. Only draw it against real bad guys.
Clear, basic moral guidance. St. John was directing people how to live reasonable, sober, honest lives in this world. We need this above all: To know how to live in a way that pleases God.
If anyone takes this knowledge for granted, so much the better. When the rich young man asked the Lord Jesus, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” the Lord spelled out the Ten Commandments. The young man was perhaps amused at so basic an answer, and he said, “Master, I have followed all these from my youth.” –If you can say the same, praise God! The Lord loved the young man for being able to say it.
The people who came to St. John did not, however, take the moral basics for granted. They were earnestly in search of an answer. “Teacher, what should we do?”
What had happened? What made them come?
Something had brought them to their senses. They had been leading bad lives in a bad world, but then they realized how bad it all was. This is how Pope Benedict described the evil of the world in a talk he gave on Tuesday:
Every day, through newspapers, the television and the radio, evil is recounted, repeated, amplified–accustoming us to the most horrible things, making us become insensitive and, in some way, intoxicating us, because the negative is not fully disposed of and accumulates day after day. The heart hardens and thoughts become dark.
The people who came to the Jordan had previously been intoxicated by evil . But then something had changed. A light shone in their minds, and they realized two things:
First, they realized that the things they thought were normal were actually evil. They realized that abuse of power, selective honesty, greed, and heard-heartedness are not normal, but bad. They realized that the world is not the measure of how we are to behave. The world is awash in sin and selfishness. The people who came to the Jordan had become aware of this.
The second thing the people realized was that there is a future coming. They wanted to be ready for it. Previously they had lived only for immediate satisfaction, with no thought of the reckoning to come. But now they realized that the world as they knew it would eventually pass away. Death waits for no man, and with death comes judgment.
This is one of the greatest revelations that has been given to the human race by the coming of Christ. In the end, justice WILL be done. The Truth will come like a raging fire upon the earth. It will burn away all falsehood.
Which brings us to the next question. Why was St. John the Baptist so important to the people who came to him? Why did they come to him?
They came to St. John because they needed a witness to the truth. They knew they were wrong. They knew they were blinded by sin, inclined to justify themselves, confused, and incapable of figuring things out alone. They were too close to the cesspool, too close to the world in which evil is normal.
On the other hand, they knew they could make a change and get right. God was giving them the strength. All they needed was a voice that could speak the clear truth to them, with a father’s love—to set them straight. If they could hear this heavenly voice, then they could turn towards it, embrace it, live by it.
The people who came to the Jordan needed the voice of truth—so do we. We need a Teacher with a capital T–someone we trust, someone who tells it like it is without fear, but who lays it out with tenderness and love.
Is there any question that the Catholic Church is this voice? Is there any other teacher who consistently teaches the basic moral truths, does not compromise, and yet proposes it all with gentleness?
The Church is like a motherly woman who goes into the center of a corrupt town. She does not yell; she does not draw attention to herself. The kind and pure look on her face is enough. Sinners turn to her. “You do not need to be doing that,” she whispers. “You can do better. You can lead a beautiful, noble life and get yourself to heaven.” She says these things quietly to us all.
She is right. We can. Let’s get to heaven by humbly and faithfully following all the teachings of the Catholic Church.