But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Matthew 3:7-8
In preceding verses, we find John the Baptist in the process of baptizing repentant Jews as part of a traditional cleansing ritual. In doing so, he is preparing his people for the arrival of Christ who will also require an acknowledgment of sin and repentance. Strolling onto the scene are the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two groups could not have been more different in their beliefs – but they both see the risk of a captivating new set of religious paradigms: Love and Forgiveness. They have come to check out the competition.
At this point three things happen. John calls them a brood of vipers, he implies that they will be included in the coming wrath of God and then this final imperative: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
These are the words that still ring true for us today. As Christians we are often reminded to bear fruit according to our gifts. This is not a difficult thing for most of us. But the “in keeping with repentance” part is more of a challenge. As we bear fruit – helping others, giving generously, clothing, and feeding the poor, welcoming the homeless, and more – John reminds us it is only by keeping our own unworthiness as part of the equation that we can serve others bearing fruit in keeping with our repentance. We are humbled by reflecting on our own sin, repentance, forgiveness. We find joy in complete justification – being found righteous in the sight of God. Now we are ready to do good – to bear fruit with our eyes focused on the God who forgives, redeems, and justifies.
Forgiving God, we are thankful for the continuous forgiveness you offer. Remind us to humbly help others in light of our own shortcomings. Help us to reflect spiritual joy as we live out the promise of the justified. Amen.