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Justice and John the Baptist

Read: Luke 3:1-20

John the Baptist is well known as the prophet who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

This is an initial observation to be considered.  It is sometimes claimed that to ‘come to Jesus’ you need to do nothing.  But here we see that something does need to be done.  A preparation is needed.  And this preparation entails repentance.

But what was the emphasis of John the Baptists preaching?  What was it that needed repentance? As we look at the text in Luke 3, we see that the main emphasis in John’s words are related to the virtue of justice.

You may recall from Week 18 that justice is defined as ‘giving each his due’.  In the quotation from Isaiah (Luke 3:4-6), different metaphors are used to depict justice:  ‘making paths straight’, ‘filling in valleys’, ‘lowering mountains’, ‘smoothing out rough ways’.    There is hence a recognition that in the interactions between individuals and the community something is not right.  Paths are crooked, there are differences that need redressing and there are areas or roughness that need correction.

John does not shy away from making explicit requests for justice to individuals:

  • If you have two shirts, share one (11).
  • If you have more food than others, share it with the hungry (11).
  • If you collect taxes, just ask for what is fair (13).
  • Don’t use your power to extort favours or accuse others to your advantage (14).
  • Don’t demand more pay than what is due to you (14).
  • Don’t engage in an intimate relationship with a woman who is not rightfully related to you (19).

And, when it comes to baptising Jesus, John again shows us what it means to give what is rightfully due, not abusing of his position of popularity and influence, and recognising that he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.

A prayer: Lord give me the courage of John the Baptist to speak out against injustice.  But before that, change my own character and accept my committment to shape my own actions according to justice.


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