Reflecting on the Gospel lection for this coming Sunday I was struck by the imagery reminiscent of Psalm 1:
John attracting a crowd by the Jordan River (c.f. Ps.1:3);
the common themes of trees bearing fruit;
And then there’s the baptiser’s practical advice for living ‘the law of the LORD’ – a concern for economic justice – in contrast to the meditative, spiritual life advocated by the psalmist. In the two great commandments both would be reinforced by ‘one who… is coming’.
I’m not sure where this is all leading. Both passages spell out consequences of taking the right or wrong path in rather vivid terms. Perhaps it’s just that in every generation we need to be reminded of the right way. But the baptiser continues a tradition of expressing that reminder in a scare-the-hell-out-of-people kind of way: people doing ‘the right thing’ to avoid being ‘thrown into the fire’.
While reinforcing the two great commandments the challenging invitation given to would-be followers by the ‘one who… is coming’ is different:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Lk. 9:23-24)
Loving God and loving one’s neighbour as oneself is much more difficult than simply combining the ‘worship and work’ of the psalmist and the baptiser. It means taking up a risky, difficult, even dangerous, journey – daily. It is a daily, constant, whole of life venture; there is no space for ‘cherry-picking’. But it seems to me that while those risks, difficulties and loss are a present, lived, daily experience, so is their reward, implementing not simply economic justice but God’s justice – for all.
© Jeff Shrowder, 2012.
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