“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much…” (NRSV, Luke 16:10)
St John the Baptist caused an enormous sensation in the populated areas of Palestine although he himself never entered them. Evidence of the power both of his personality and of his fiery message is to be seen in the fact that the people went out to him – he did not have to go to them. For, of the two particular points on the River Jordan where he baptised, one was some 20 miles east of Jerusalem and the other was some 50 miles farther north on the route to Galilee.
And there by the Jordan he hammered home what is the fundamental preliminary of anyone’s personal relationship with God – namely repentance. Although the religious leaders sneered at this austere young hermit from the grim Judean desert, and said he had a devil in him, the vast crowds who flocked to him recognised instinctively that he was a man of God. In St Mark’s words, “…all regarded John as truly a prophet” (NRSV, Mark 11:32).
Tax-collectors, fishermen, soldiers and people of many other occupations converged on the banks of the Jordan and when they had confessed their sins before John and had been baptised by him, they asked him what they had to do next. To the tax-collectors who, as a matter of course, fleeced the public, he replied, “Don’t over-charge people”. To the soldiers of the Roman army of occupation, he said, “No violence and no looting” (Luke 3:12-14).
Now when those tax-collectors and soldiers asked John the Baptist, “And we, what shall we do?” perhaps they expected him to prescribe some out-of-the-ordinary task for them to perform as a mark of their conversion. If so they were disappointed. There was nothing spectacular about the Baptist’s injunctions. They were all concerned with what was, for the tax-collectors and soldiers, the routine of everyday life. They had looked to the future, John the Baptist put his finger firmly on the present.