John told people that the kingdom of heaven was near. He told them that repenting was the appropriate response.
And he said that they couldn’t use their genealogical connection to Abraham as a reason to not worrying about repenting.
John’s argument was that repentance doesn’t result from your family tree, but it does result in fruit.
“So what do we do?” his listeners asked.
It’s the perfect question. Repentance is not simply about a changed mind. It’s about changes in attitude and behavior that show a changed mind.
Let’s go back to my marathon example. if you say, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not a couch sitter anymore,” and you keep sitting on the couch, a reasonable person could say, “You are a couch sitter.”
But tonight, if you set the remote down and miss the episode of “Friends” and you walk around the block, you have started to show the fruit of repentance toward running a marathon.
And if you do that again tomorrow night, and the next, and then start to run, you are demonstrating that something changed. And you are reinforcing the change.
That’s exactly what John said about what to do: “If you have extra clothing and food, share with the people who don’t have any.” It’s a low bar. Anyone could do it. But if someone doesn’t share, John suggests, it’s hard to say there’s repentance.
The tax collectors were sketchy. The soldiers were distrusted. Everyone knew that they needed to repent. And they asked John what repentance would lead to. John explained that tax collectors should be honest, collecting only what was required. Soldiers should be content with their pay, not taking advantage of power to extort money. Or more.
So repenting in light of the kingdom means adopting values in doing our work that reflect God’s kingdom’s values.
It’s interesting that John didn’t tell them to repent of being tax collectors and soldiers. He didn’t call them to be pastors and missionaries. He didn’t tell them to go to synagogue or study the scriptures either. For these people wanting to follow God, the application is to stay in their professions and in their professions, follow God.