Taxes. They can seem oppressive but they were much moreso in the first century. Tax collectors made “extra money” exploiting it out of those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. There was a built in portion that went to the tax collectors, but then the tax collectors would find a way to suck out that “extra.” They were even less popular then than they are now. In fact, these regular scoundrels were hated by the masses. Their actions were evil and wrong.
Police soldiers. They too would often play the part of the evil one. Falsely accuse someone, exploit them and they would have a few extra bucks in their purse. Why not? They deserved it? Right? And what’s wrong with a little extra? At least that was their justification. They took advantage of the system. One thing God says in the Bible that he “hates” is false witnesses. Hates.
John the Baptist reflects this sentiment. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
“What should we do then?” the tax collectors asked first.
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
The police soldiers ask the same, “And what should we do?”
“Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”
John the Baptist: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And if we’re in the crowd we’re probably saying, “go get ’em Jesus” because we too would be suffering from this tyranny. We like guys like Jesus who fight for our protection and deliverance.
But I left one out of this trifecta of blood-boiling evil. And that is the question of the crowd.
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
“John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Oh no. Somehow I find myself in the crowd and it is uncomfortable. I not only have two tunics, I have many. I not only have one pair of shoes but I have a rack (Ok, two of them) to hold them all. I not only have food for today, but food for the next week. Somehow greed gets redefined when that demon is found in my closet. It’s just a little less evil. I mean really, we can’t practically live without several pairs of shoes for different aspects of life in this modern world can we? And we can’t really live without our summer clothes, winter clothes, work clothes, play clothes, dress clothes, etc…? And honestly, isn’t this country and the West in general one of the most generous nations in the world?
“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Cor 8:13-15).
It’s not the issue of condemnation, it is the issue of inequality. And we all know the statistics. Those of us in the West, especially America consume about 95% of the world’s resources. And somehow it doesn’t seem as sinful as the tax-collector’s greed or the soldier/policeman’s greed or worthy of such a strong rebuke from John the Baptist calling us “brood of vipers.” I wonder if the tax collector’s and the soldier policeman had the same excuses.
We don’t need to live in shacks, but somehow 95 % or even close to that percentage doesn’t spell-out equality and until it does, fruit-filled repentance will be the only way we can avoid the starvation of the soul.