If you had a chance to ask Pope Francis one question, and be assured that he would answer you immediately, what question would you ask him? Well, John the Baptist was faced with a similar situation 2,000 years ago. He had magnetism; everyone wants to shake the hand of famous public figures, and get advice from a holy man of God. The prophets had been silent for a very long time. The reappearance (John the Baptist) meant that the Messiah would not be far behind.
If you notice the three types of questioners in today’s Gospel (Luke 3:10-18), you will see a specific pattern. John the Baptist has just called them all a “brood of vipers,” and told them to “produce good fruit” or else! Now that sort of prophetic word certainly gained their attention! First the crowds ask what they need to do, and the Baptist tells them to share their possessions. The hated tax collectors also wanted to be baptised, and asked the same question; John tells them to stop abusing their taxing authority. Finally, even the hated Roman soldiers sought John’s advice. They, too, are advised not to abuse their position of power and authority.
Possessions, money, and power - - the same three things that are usually stumbling blocks on the road to salvation for most people today. It recalls the camel-and-needle story about “rich” folk entering heaven. But these words are more than just suggestions from an ancient “Dr Phil-type” advice person named John. These accusations about improper life styles and the ethical way to produce good fruit are coming from a prophet, one who speaks God’s will, not his own will. The message is timeless, because whether spoken by John the Baptist or Pope Francis it is God’s will that we all live the Christian way of life. John tells us then and now that good fruit will be the only “evidence” of a repentant heart.
In this special year of Mercy, the Catholic Church “echoes” the words of the Baptist, encouraging everyone to engage in “works of mercy,” both spiritual and corporal. Performing works of mercy are indeed “bearing good fruit,” and are truly one of the many signs of a compassionate and repentant heart.