Third Sunday of Advent – Year C

When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.

Lk 3:10-18

Those who were well disposed and anxious to know what they should do for their salvation direct their questions to John the Baptist. In response, John directs his message to all people and all professions. The spiritual renewal he calls for entails, among other things, a return to social justice (vv.11, 14), honesty (v.13) and generosity (v.11). Though he mentions only two corporal works of mercy (clothing the naked and feeding the hungry) in them are included all the other works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual.

The multitudes wonder if John is the Messiah. He denies this and speaks of the Messiah as one more powerful than he. John’s baptism signified the need for inner purity, but did not affect this in a sacramental way. “I baptise you with water, but someone is coming who … will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”. The greater baptism of the Messiah would both signify and effect spiritual cleansing by infusing the grace of divine Sonship and regenerating the believer  in  the Holy Spirit. “I am not fit to undo the strap” (v.16): evidence of John’s humility. Removing and carrying sandals was

a menial task reserved for slaves serving their master. John regards himself as unworthy to perform even a slave’s task for the Messiah.

“Winnowing fan” (v.17): According to common practice, grain was tossed into the air with a forked shovel. The wind blew away the useless chaff, while the grain kernels fell to the threshing floor to be gathered and stored up. In the opinion of St. Cyril, the chaff signifies the trifling and empty, blown away by sin. God will similarly separate the righteous and wicked at the final judgement.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission and Identity