In today’s Gospel, there is a question posed three times: “What should we do?” (Lk 3,10.12.14). Three categories of people raise it to John the Baptist: first, the crowd in general; second, the publicans, or tax collectors; and, third, some soldiers. Each of these groups questions the prophet on what must be done to implement the conversion that he is preaching. John’s reply to the question of the crowd is sharing essential goods. He told the first group, the crowd, to share basic necessities, and therefore says: “Whoever has two cloaks, should share with the person who has none, and whoever has food should do likewise” (v. 11 ). Then, he says to the second group, the tax collectors, stop collecting more than is prescribed. What does this mean? No ‘kickbacks,’ John the Baptist is clear. And to the third group, the soldiers, he says do not exhort anyone for anything, and be content with your pay (v. 14). There are the three answers to the three questions of these groups. Three answers to an identical path of conversion, which is manifested in concrete commitments to justice and solidarity. And ‘the road that Jesus shows in all his preaching: the active path of love for the neighbor.
From these warnings of John the Baptist, we understand what were the general trends of those who at that time held the power, in various forms. Things have not changed much. However, no group of people is excluded from the path of conversion for salvation, not even the tax collectors, considered sinners by definition: not even they are excluded from salvation. God does not exclude anyone from the chance to save themselves. He is – as it were – anxious to show mercy, to use it all, and welcome everyone into the tender embrace of reconciliation and forgiveness.
This question – ‘What should we do?’ – We feel to be even ours. Today’s liturgy tells us, in the words of John, that is necessary to repent, we must change direction and take the path of justice, solidarity, sobriety: these are the essential values of a life fully human and genuinely Christian. Repent! It sums up the message of John the Baptist. And the Liturgy of this Third Sunday of Advent helps us to rediscover a special dimension of conversion: joy. Whoever converts and approaches the Lord, feels joy. The prophet Zephaniah tells us today: “Rejoice, daughter of Zion!” Turned to Jerusalem (Zeph 3:14); and the apostle Paul exhorted Christians in Philippi: “Rejoice always in the Lord” (Phil 4,4). Today, it takes courage to speak of joy, which, above all, requires faith! The world is beset by many problems, the future weighed down by uncertainties and fears. Yet, the Christian is a joyful person, and his joy is not something superficial and ephemeral, but deep and stable, because it is a gift from God that fills life. Our joy comes from knowing that “the Lord is near” (Phil 4.5), is close with His tenderness, His mercy, His forgiveness and His love.
May the Virgin Mary help us to strengthen our faith, because we welcome the God of joy, the God of mercy, who always wants to live in the midst of her children. And our Mother teaches us to share tears with those who weep, but also to be able to share a smile.
After the Angelus:
The climate conference has just ended in Paris with the adoption of an agreement, being called historic by many. Its implementation will require a concerted commitment and generous dedication by all. Hoping that it gives special attention to the most vulnerable populations, we urge the international community to continue the path taken promptly, in a sign of solidarity that will become more and more active.
Next Tuesday, December 15, the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade will begin in Nairobi. I turn to the countries that will participate, so that the decisions that will be taken into account the needs of the poor and the most vulnerable, as well as the legitimate aspirations of the least developed countries and the common good of the entire human family.
In all the cathedrals of the world, the Holy Doors are opened, because the Jubilee of mercy can be fully lived in the particular churches. I hope that this time offers many strong incentives to become instruments of God’s tenderness. As an expression of the works of mercy, “Doors of Mercy” are being opened in places of discomfort and alienation. In this regard, I greet the inmates of prisons around the world, especially those of the Padua prison, which today are spiritually united with us, at this time, to pray, and I thank them for the gift.
I greet all of you, pilgrims who have come from Rome, Italy, from many parts of the world. In particular, I greet those from Warsaw and from Madrid. A special thought goes to the Foundation Dispensary Santa Marta in the Vatican: parents with their children, the volunteers and to the Daughters of Charity; thank you for your witness of solidarity and welcome! And I also greet the members of the Focolare Movement together with friends from some Islamic communities. Go on! Go forward with courage in your path of dialogue and fraternity, because we are all children of God!
To all, I send cordial wishes for good Sunday and a good lunch. Do not forget, please, to pray for me. See you soon!