‘Anyone who has two tunics, must share one with the man who has none’. This was John’s answer to the question about what must be done. The question meant that the person or people had to be ready for a change. The attitude of the people at that time was that if a person had two tunics, then someone else need not have any. It is quite dissimilar to our attitude. Today, the desire when we have more seems to be correct regarding those who have less. The people heard John’s message and realised that they needed to change in order to be ready for the coming of the Messiah.
In those days, the obligation to share what one had, did not go beyond that of the family boundaries. Families that were living at the subsistence level did not and could not go beyond their family to share. Jesus of course challenged this as we see this later in the Gospel (Lk 9: 10-17). At times the family members themselves were filled with greed and did not share with their own family members: something that is happening even today. To widen one’s horizon in terms of living the command to love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, mind, strength and soul was the call of John’s preaching.
The tax collectors were under the employment of the chief tax collector, like Zacchaeus, who made a bid for the right to collect toll (tax) from the Roman authorities. To obtain this right, they would have to pay the assessment fee the moment they won the bid to have this right. The winner of the bid to this right will then have to devise his own way of trying to make back the amount that he had initially forked out. The Romans did not bother too much in the case that the chief tax collector collected more than he should. The chief tax collector will then usually hire those who are homeless and incapable of finding any work. These tax collectors were mostly honest in doing their work and any cheating on their part would usually benefit their employers. Not all the chief tax collectors were wealthy as Zacchaeus. John was addressing these chief tax collectors. John did not call for an overhaul of the system but called for a change of heart for those who were in the system.
Quite often we seek to change the system that exists, only to find that the new system does not work as well. This is primarily due to the people in the system. Corrupt people corrupt the system and usually instead of addressing the corrupt people, the system is blamed. John’s call to conversion is a call relevant to each one of us today as we are tempted in every way to give in to the temptations of greed, abuse of power, and selfishness. Conversion is shown by an obvious change in one’s behaviour.
To truly rejoice that the Lord’s coming is close at hand, is to have taken the road of conversion. The waiting for the Lord will be an active waiting where there is much action as there is much anticipation. The action takes place in the heart that is being cleansed for the coming of the King. The heart is cleansed of the other so-called rulers of our heart like the internet games, drama series, and unnecessary attachments.
Love and Adventure,
Fr. Terence Pereira
Questions for Reflection
1.What are the fruits of our repentance?
2.Are we in the right relationship with God now?
3.What about the relationship with our neighbours?
4.How are we preparing ourselves in this season of advent for the coming of Christ?