John the Baptist sure doesn’t hold back. He speaks the truth to anyone and everyone – even to the ruler of Galilee that ends up sending him to jail. Brood of vipers, fruitless trees thrown into the fire, chaf to be separated from the wheat, don’t exactly conjure up any positive analogies. Repent, or see yourself separated from the coming kingdom.
I also find it interesting how John responds to different people from different walks of life when they ask what should they do to repent. The general crowd should give up clothing and food to share with the poor, tax collectors should stop taking their extra cut beyond what the government requires, and the soldiers should stop extorting money from people. All of these have the common theme of giving up the pursuit of earthly possessions, including money beyond what one really needs. This seems to connect closely to a verse that is often misquoted – 1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows”. Many people omit the “kinds of”, suggesting that money itself is evil. Money itself is not evil, but when it becomes something we pursue ahead of God, it puts us down the wrong path. I think that is why John the Baptist includes this repentance response of removing the material possession priority in our lives that is keeping us apart from God. This hits home living in such an affluent area like Silicon Valley. Are we falling into the trap of craving money, things, wealth, prestige ahead of our pursuit of the Messiah? What would John the Baptist say if he visited Silicon Valley today? Do we need to repent? Are there actions that we need to take in response to our repentance?