What Would John the Baptist Say to Church Leaders Today?
For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by New Ways Ministry’s Associate Director, Matthew Myers. The liturgical readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are Zephaniah 3: 14:18; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18. You can read the texts by clicking here.
“What should we do?”
John the Baptist is asked this question three times in today’s Gospel reading: by the crowds, the tax collectors, and the soldiers. John’s responses build upon his general call to repentance in which he instructs people how to act justly toward one another. To the crowds, John replies, “Share your excess goods.” To the tax collectors, “Don’t be greedy.” And to the soldiers, he says, “Don’t steal people’s goods or destroy their reputations.” Seems to me like pretty fair instructions.
We all have those “What should we do?” moments, both big and small. We ask this question because the way forward is unclear. Often we turn to wisdom figures in our lives — people we admire and wish to emulate — to enlighten our minds and hearts. And we turn to Scripture for guidance.
I wonder how John the Baptist might respond to Catholic leaders who choose to discriminate against LGBT employees because of their sexual orientation, gender identity,or relationship status — either by asking them to resign or by firing them outright. At some point, these Catholic leaders inevitably ask themselves, “What should we do?” in this particular case.
Rather than advocating the dismissal of LGBT employees, I think John the Baptist might respond by saying, “Don’t unjustly deprive people of their livelihoods” or maybe “Judge a person’s work, not their sexual orientation.” These instructions seem to be more consistent with what John told the crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers than what some Catholic leaders choose to do.
We are all responsible for the choices we make — for our answers to the question, “What should we do?” Good choices help us to grow in our relationships with God and with other people. Bad choices corrupt those relationships. John preaches repentance for our bad choices because we need to repair the disharmony we create. That is a challenge always before us, but one particularly present in the Advent season when we take a moral inventory of our choices to prepare for Christmas.
On this third Sunday of Advent, I pray that Catholic leaders make choices that respect the integrity and consciences of their lesbian and gay employees — and that some Catholic leaders make amends to employees who have been unjustly fired. And I pray for you and me, that we may have the wisdom and fortitude to make good choices and to repent for our bad ones.