Sunday Readings: Zephaniah 3.14-18; Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.10-18
Crowds of people came to hear John the Baptist and seek the baptism of repentance he proclaimed. Crowds asked, “John, what should we do?”
John answered: “Let people with two coats give to people who have none. People who have lots of food should do the same.”
Tax collectors came to be baptized, asking, “What are we to do, Teacher?” John answered, “Don’t collect more than people really owe.”
Soldiers came to John, too, asking, “What about us? What should we do?” John answered, “Do not bully people or accuse them falsely. Be satisfied with your pay.” – Luke
What exactly is John doing by the River Jordan? Why are Jewish people seeking baptism? The word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo, meaning to dip under, to immerse, to wash. Among Jews the ritual of dipping or immersing in water signifies spiritual cleansing.
The water must be living water — fresh, running water as in the River Jordan. This cleansing is called mikveh (mick-vah). In Hebrew the word mikveh comes from the same three consonant roots as the word for hope. The root kvh means to wait for, to endure. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of God as the mikvah of Israel, the hope of Israel, or the awaited of Israel.
To take the cleansing bath John preaches is to turn toward God and the hope Jews await. It is an act of conversion that commits one to new ways of acting.
When the crowd asks John what they are to do, John tells them to do justice in their everyday life and work. Only when the crowd has chosen to take care of others can they immerse themselves in the water and receive the baptism of repentance.
What is your experience of water cleansing and reviving you? What is a way you have marked a turning toward God in your life?