church-doorsYesterday our pastor talked about the third chapter of Matthew. You know, John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ. Basically, it’s about John preaching repentance.

And John must have been an effective preacher, because he inspired the crowd to ask what they needed to do to avoid being cut down and thrown into the fire. John’s answer is surprisingly simple.

  1. If you have more than you need, share what you have with someone who has less than they need.
  2. If you’re a tax collector, collect only what you’re authorized to collect.
  3. If you’re a soldier, don’t extort anyone by force and be content with your salary.

Although it seems underwhelming, his response was so powerful, the people wondered if John might be the Messiah. So what’s powerful about this answer?

It seems to me, what John was telling people, was to simply do what’s right. But I was also struck by what he didn’t tell them. He didn’t tell the people to make sure their neighbors where giving to those in need. And he didn’t tell the tax collectors to make sure other tax collectors where following the rules. And he didn’t tell the soldiers to check in on other soldiers who might be extorting others. or complaining about their pay.

I know I’m all too often guilty of excusing my own behavior by comparing it to the behavior of others. Do I give as much as I can? No, but I give more than she does. Do I break the rules? Maybe, but not as drastically as he does. Do I harbor discontent? Well sure, but I’m much more justified than they are.

And I think that’s where we can get stuck with John’s simple instructions. Basically, he’s telling the people to look after their own business and do what’s right. But as soon as I think someone else isn’t doing right, I figure that gives me permission to slide a little myself.

John preaches a marvelous sermon. Do what’s right in God’s eyes. If only John had handed out blinders.