Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Unintended Audiences


Luke, of third Gospel of the New Testament fame, was also a doctor. Compared to many doctors of today, this guy had quite the bedside manner. You can see it in the way he writes. 

I'm towards the beginning of a Bible reading plan that will take me through all four Gospels in 30 days. That, of course, is not counting the days I skip, since I am quite the undisciplined and sweaty Philistine. Actually, I'm only sweating because the air conditioner repairman hasn't shown up yet, but that's another blog post. 

The great thing about reading all four Gospels at the same time, besides getting a big helping of Jesus, is comparing the writers when they share the same stories. Take, for example, this story of John the Baptist in Luke 3. When Matthew, that cheating tax collector, shares the same story, he wastes no time in throwing the Pharisees and Sadducees under the bus. Then he snickers while he recalls what John the Baptist says to them. 

But not Doctor Luke. He simply refers to them as 'the crowds'. Everybody knows it's easier to say bad things about them when we generalize and don't make it overly obvious who we're talking about. So what did John the Baptist say. 

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” ~Luke 3:7-9

John the Baptist is addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees but they are not the ones who respond.

The crowd responds.

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

The tax collectors respond.

12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
 
The soldiers respond.

14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

In case you're wondering, tax collectors and soldiers were not favorably looked upon by the Jewish people. They kind of had a reputation for being cheaters. And the crowd that asked what they should do? We can be fairly certain it wasn't the religious leaders asking that question. For they assumed they already knew what to do. And it didn't include taking advice from wild-haired freaks with no fashion sense like John the Baptist. 

Besides avoiding religious leaders who are way too confident about themselves, what can we learn from this? Well, each follower of Jesus has a mission and a ministry. John the Baptist was doing what John the Baptist was supposed to be doing. He ate locusts. He rocked the leather. And he called the truth out in the wilderness. 

He didn't advertise for the crowds. He didn't entertain for the masses. 

It won't always work like we planned. But we should still do what we're supposed to be doing, because people are watching. They might not be the audiences we intended, but they might have questions. It's our calling to be available to answer those questions. 

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