One day in sixth grade, my classmates and I started competing over which one of us had seen the most famous person in real life. One of us had glimpsed a professional football player in a Savannah restaurant. Another insisted he’d seen a famous actor and his family at a theme park. My claim to fame was my mom’s cousin’s ex-wife’s new husband, who was an attorney representing a popular singer recently arrested for domestic violence. After much arguing, my claim was determined to be the most credible, because who’d make up such a complicated web of connection, and to that person?
Describing how you’re descended from Abraham sounds like the kind of boasting first-century Jewish twelve-year olds might have engaged in. Maybe the adults boasted in this way too, because John the Baptist cautions his listeners, who he calls a “brood of vipers” (v. 7), not to rest on the laurels of their famous ancestor. Abraham “believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6), but his descendants have no claim on that righteousness.
John the Baptist was preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry by calling the Jewish people to repentance. So he wants to make absolutely clear that this crowd knows that having a famous ancestor doesn’t eliminate their individual need for personal repentance. Abraham’s faith won’t save any of them. Neither will our associations with famous or righteous people, credible as they may be, save us from the wrath to come (v. 7). What, then, should we do? “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (v. 11). John makes it clear that what matters when it comes to faith is being that person.
How do I feel when I read John’s instruction to share my excess with others? What does my emotional response tell me about how well or how poorly I follow this instruction?
God, please help me live in ways that are open toward others. Make me willing to act generously as you lead me. Amen.