7 John said 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?
8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
John the Baptist would not go over well as the preacher in most churches today. He sounds angry, judgmental, unforgiving, even vicious.
A “brood of vipers” is not a nice thing. Vipers are venomous and deadly. John accuses the people in these crowds of coming to be baptized because they want “to flee from the wrath to come.” They are motivated, he implies, by self-interest, the desire to protect themselves, the determination to watch out for their own well-being, and avoid possible harm.
There are times when I am a “viper”, times when I am driven more by a desire to look after myself, to put my needs, wants and desires ahead of any other consideration. There are times when my dominant motivation is to protect myself from any possible harm.
When I am a viper, I destroy human community. I spread poison, death and destruction. I need the wake-up call John the Baptist provides.
I cannot presume upon my birthright to protect me from my own tendency to choose death. I need to make a fundamental course correction. I need to turn away repeatedly from self-interest towards the openness and expansiveness that seek the greater well-being of all people. I need to renounce the deadly violence of the petty attitudes to which I am so often prone.
John the Baptist is right, there are “trees” in my life that need to be “cut down and thrown into the fire.” There are attitudes, words, and actions that are not bearing “good fruit.” I need to have the courage to face these honestly and do what I can to remove them from my life.
How do I respond when someone points out to me something in my life that I may need to let go of?
How willing am I to look honestly at my inner life?