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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

+ Advent Three + 2009 +

Lexegete™ | Year C | St. Luke


Third Sunday of Advent

December 13, 2009

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6 (6)
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Prayer of the Day

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the preaching of John, that, rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentanc; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. I am sending my messen- | ger before you,
who will prepare your | way before you. Alleluia. (Matt. 11:10)

1a. CONTEXT - Luke 3:7-18

Luke now tells of John's preaching and his baptism. The pericope is followed by a brief reference to his imprisonment and by the account of the baptism of Jesus, one form of which is read on the first Sunday after the Epiphany in all three years of the lectionary.

Luke's dating of John's ministry (read on Advent 2) indicates that Palestine has been partitioned since the death of Herod the Great. Since A.D. 6 there were uprisings and threats of further trouble. Judaea was under Roman administration, Galilee and Peraea were ruled by a client prince, so this was essentially an occupied territory. According to rabbinic tradition, the high priesthood was corrupt. Taxation, added to tithes, took a large share of the country's income. The many references in the gospels to demon possession indicated that many suffered from mental and nervous ailments. All this helps to explain popularity of apocalyptic writings such as the Psalms of Solomon (perhaps 55-45 B.C.) and the Qumran War Scroll.

Both the Pharisees and the Essenes called for repentance, the latter by forming a semi-monastic community, the former by attempting to educate the entire population in observance to Torah. John the Baptist was therefore a signficant figure in a penitential movement and seems to have had mass appeal to crowds of town and country people.

In this pericope John denounces the crowds, warns of the coming wrath, and predicts that one more powerful than he will administer a more crucial baptism. Luke inserts a passage not found in the other gospels (vss. 10-14) in which John instructs the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers on their immediate duties. His commmands have been criticized from two points of view, as follows: 1 - It is alleged to be only an interim ethic; i.e., since so little can be done in the brief time ahead, do only what you can. 2 - He does not seem to recognize the depth and pervasiveness of human sin (in contrast to Jesus and Paul); much more is required of individuals and of the nation.

Yet these words are appropriate, so far as they go, for any time at all, not merely in an interim. Generosity in sharing, honesty in money matters, and proper behavior of the powerful toward a subject population, are teahcings of the Old Testament also.

Luke's main source appears to be Mark 1:4-8, but there are parallels also to Matthew 3:7-10, 11c (kai pyri), 12. Here relationships between the gospels are much debated. If there is not an overlap between Mark and Q, Luke may be dependent on Matthew. We do not know what source lies behind verses 10-14, but elsewhere Luke transmits much special material, perhaps from a source L.

1b. TEXT - Luke 3:7-18
7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”
11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics [1] is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”
14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.


[1] 3:11 Greek χιτῶνας (chiton), a long garment
worn under the cloak next to the skin

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001
by Crossway Bibles, a ministry of Good News Publishers.


7Ἔλεγεν οὖν τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ' αὐτοῦ, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς;
8ποιήσατε οὖν καρποὺς ἀξίους τῆς μετανοίας: καὶ μὴ ἄρξησθε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ, λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ.
9ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἡ ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται: πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται. 10Καὶ ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ ὄχλοι λέγοντες, Τί οὖν ποιήσωμεν; 11ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ὁ ἔχων δύο χιτῶνας μεταδότω τῷ μὴ ἔχοντι, καὶ ὁ ἔχων βρώματα ὁμοίως ποιείτω.
12ἦλθον δὲ καὶ τελῶναι βαπτισθῆναι καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν, Διδάσκαλε, τί ποιήσωμεν;
13ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Μηδὲν πλέον παρὰ τὸ διατεταγμένον ὑμῖν πράσσετε.
14ἐπηρώτων δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ στρατευόμενοι λέγοντες, Τί ποιήσωμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς; καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Μηδένα διασείσητε μηδὲ συκοφαντήσητε, καὶ ἀρκεῖσθε τοῖς ὀψωνίοις ὑμῶν.
15Προσδοκῶντος δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ Χριστός, 16ἀπεκρίνατο λέγων πᾶσιν ὁ Ἰωάννης, Ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς: ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί:
17οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ διακαθᾶραι τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ καὶ συναγαγεῖν τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην αὐτοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.
18Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο τὸν λαόν:

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975, United Bible Societies, London

2. ANALYSIS - Luke 3:7-18

Luke 3:7 - Genneimata exiduon - brood (or offspring) of vipers. The metaphor suggests snakes fleeing from a grass fire.

Lk. 3:8 - lithon touton egeirai tekna - Evidently a play on words in Aramaic, abhnayya, stones; b enayya, childlren (the same pun would be possible in Hebrew).

Lk. 3:9 - keitai - is lying. The axe is near the tree, perhaps even in the woodsman's hands. Cf. 13:6-9 for the same metaphor of judgment.

Lk. 3:11 - chitonas - the undergarment. Jesus gives a similar teaching in Luke 6:29.

Lk. 3:12f. - telonai - probably employees of the tax farmers who contracted with the Roman government or Herod Antipas. They could easily prey on ignorant or fearful people. Cf., Zacchaeus, 19:8f.

Lk. 3:14 - srateuomenoi - men doing military service. The troops in Judaea and Galilee must have been mostly pagan, but this presumes that there were Jews among them. diaseisete - literally means "shake thoroughly," i.e. "shake-down," extort money by violence. sukophantesete, extort; specifically by false accusation.

Lk. 3:15 - In the earliest tradition the "mightier one" may have been God himself, as in Malachi 4:5. But the "thong of the sandals" (vs. 16) suggests a human figure. John was sometimes identified with the Elijah of Malachi (Matthew 11:14). Here Luke indicates that the people expected the Messiah, who according to Jewish tradition would be announced by Elijah.

Lk. 3:16 - en pneumati agio kai pyri - Both Luke and Matthew add "and fire" to the promise of the Holy Spirit in Mark.

Lk. 3:17 - The sayings in verses 15f. are chiastic:

Holy Spirit / fire // burn / gather into granary.

Thus the fire is not that of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). ptuon - winnowing shovel, used to toss the grain into the air; the wind blew the chaff away and the wheat fell to the bedrock threshing floor. Farmers might burn the chaff in ovens if it collected in piles.

3. STRATEGY - Luke 3:7-18

Once again the theme of the day combines judgment with hope, joy and thanksgiving (1st and 2nd readings). Phil. 4:4-7 is particularly attractive. When Paul wrote he was also in a time of crisis and faced the possiblity of his own death.

The homily might emphasize national repentance. The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls saw no hope for the mass of people, only for the elect, and they withdrew from society. The Pharisees did not withdraw, but they tried to teach a strict, minute observance of all parts of the law. Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the near advent of the Reign of God.
John at least prepared for this by teaching individual repentance, and seems to have addressed everyone who would listen.

One possible approach is to put John's teaching in the context of thoroughgoing repentance. In our individualistic society, too many people think they can behave with honesty and decency in their personal relationships while they take no responsibility for the nation and the international order. The Old Testament prophets--and probalby John also--thought of each person as having his or her identity and meaning only as part of the community. The moral life of any human being is a unity, and personal and public morality cannot be separated into different compartments. This puts a special obligation to Christians who live in a more democratic society and are not, like lst Century Jews, subjects of
arbitrary rulers.

Exegete: Sherman E. Johnson, PhD, ThD †

4. REFERENCES: Luke 3:7-18

Fitzmyer, Jos. A. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE. Anchor Bible, vols 28 and 28 a. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1981, 1985.

Johnson, Sherman E. THE YEAR OF THE LORD'S FAVOR. NY: Seabury, 1987.


If the following hymns were not used for Advent 2 , they could be used with this day's pericopes:




Also, since the focus on John the Baptist continues this week, the following could also be carried over for use this week:



Hymns on the Kingdom (see Hymn Suggestions for Advent 1) remain appropriate throughout the Advent Season, as noted earlier.

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