My name is the Reverend Calum Burke, and I’m one of the Curates at Top Church in Dudley. I have the pleasure of bringing you a reflection from Luke 3:7-18. This is the second part of John the Baptist’s famous speech, which is generally understood as preparation for the coming of Jesus. A perfect message for Advent!
During my degree, I read a book called Deep Calls Out to Deep, which is a book about transforming conversations between Jews and Christians and is edited by Rabbi Tony Bayfield. The book contains several chapters written by Jews and Christians.
In one of the chapters, Rabbi Michael Hilton writes,
‘I have no [memory] of ever being tempted to become a Christian. I am sure this is largely because of references in the Christian Scriptures to the Jews, seemingly always as the villains of the story’.
Our reading from Luke feels like one of these stories.
John the Baptist does not hold back with his condemnation of the Jewish crowd, calling them ‘a brood of vipers’, language which has been adopted by anti-Semites throughout history. In verse nine, he warns them of their coming destruction.
These are not easy words, and we must handle them with care, especially with Jewish people in mind. So what then do we do with biblical encounters such as these? Encounters in which Jewish people always seem to be the villains.
I believe there are two things for us to reflect on.
Firstly, we must take into account the Jewishness of the Gospels. So many of the stories we read are intra-faith conversations, by which I mean Jewish family conversations. We all know what family conversations can be like!
But unfortunately, throughout history, Christians have treated these encounters as inter-faith conversations and have used the words of the Gospels to attack and correct people of other faiths. Especially Jews.
This has had damaging consequences.
You see, not every biblical story is there for us to copy. Not everything in Scripture is supposed to be a manual.
We are not supposed to engage with Jewish people in the way John the Baptist does, and we see that history is littered with painful examples of when Christians have done this.
Secondly, if this encounter between John the Baptist and the crowd is an intra-faith conversation, a family conversation.
then perhaps it has more to say to the Christian community, ie. You and me, than those outside the Church?
After all, Jesus’ most polemical material was aimed at his own religious leaders.
If we are to understand John the Baptist’s words this advent season, then the question for us might be, are we ready? Perhaps we need to point our fingers in at ourselves, not out at others. When the axe comes, are we producing good fruit?
It’s no good saying, ‘but I’m a Christian’ or ‘I’m the Vicar’ or ‘I’m the Church Warden’, or even ‘I’m the Bishop’. In the same way, it wasn’t enough for the crowd to use their identity as children of Abraham, as an excuse to not listen or to limit God
John the Baptist’s instructions are clear; from verse eleven onwards, the fruit is visible in service and action, not in status or position.
So my friends, this Advent, where might your fruit be, and how might you grow more of it?
And how can you read Scripture in a way that is less condemning of other communities?
 M Hilton, ‘“The Jews” in John’s Gospel’ cited from Deep Calls to Deep: Transforming Conversations Between Jews and Christians, pg. 95