The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist
Bernardo Strozzi was born and was initially mainly active in Genoa, though he worked in Venice in the latter part of his career.
He is considered one of the principal founders of the Venetian Baroque Style. His powerful art stands out by its rich and glowing colour and broad energetic brushstrokes.
He joined the workshop of Pietro Sorri, an innovative Sienese painter residing in Genoa. Sorri is credited with leading Strozzi away from the artificial elegance towards a greater naturalism.
In 1598, at the age of 17, Strozzi joined a Capuchin Monastery. However, he was allowed to abandon his Capuchin Community to care for his mother and unmarried sister. He remained a Priest.
Following his mother's death and the marriage of his sister, he refused to go back to the Monastery. His Superiors then had him imprisoned. His arrest lasted for about 17 to 18 months.
Moving to Venice, Strozzi was able to build a strong reputation within two years and gradually gained recognition as one of the leading artists of his age.
Bernardo worked on important public commissions including major altarpieces. He was allowed the use of the honorific Monsignor although he remained known generally under the popular name: Il Prete Genovese.
At the end of his career Strozzi also worked as an engineer. He died in Venice in 1644.
“10‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. 11John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same’. 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher’, they asked, ‘What should we do?’ 13‘Don't collect any more than you are required to’, he told them. 14Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely -be content with your pay’. 15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. 18And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them”.
In the reading of this week from the Gospel of Luke, the crowd responds to John the Baptist’s teachings by asking ‘What should we do, then?’ They had been following John and listening to his teachings. The words of John were troubling for them, because they believed that the Jews were a favoured nation, safe from judgement by reason of being Children of Abraham who would not be judged by God, as other nations would be.
But John was clear that racial privilege meant nothing. The manner in which they conducted their lives was God’s standard of judgement.
So, the teaching of John was a summons to repentance or, as we heard last week, a summons to undergo ‘transformation’.
John’s First Message
John begins by demanding that his listeners should share their possessions and assets with one another. We find social justice at the heart of this message, as he makes clear that God will not absolve the one who is content to have too much, while there are others who have too little.
John’s Second Message
John explained that a man did not need to give up his job but should work out his own salvation by doing it as it should be done and, to the best of his ability.
He exhorted the tax collectors, men who had bought from the Romans the right to collect taxes, not to abuse their position, but to collect only what their instructions required.
Similarly, he urged the soldiers who provided armed support for the tax collectors not to treat anyone with violence, not to falsely inform and to be content to receive only the pay they were due.
Let the tax collector be a good tax collector; let the soldier be a good soldier. It is someone’s duty to serve God where God had set them in life. The conviction of John is that nowhere can one serve God better than in one’s daily work.
This brings to mind the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Here the owner of the vineyard himself went out regularly throughout the day, offering the dignity of work to men who had not yet been able to find work for that day. He paid them the going daily rate although they had not worked a full day.
As in John’s first message, his words are not esoteric theological principles, but rather simple practical spirituality.
John’s Third Message
Only the Gospel of Luke sets out a psychological setting, in which the crowds listened to John. In Verse 15 Luke records that “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah”.
John makes it clear that he is only the forerunner. He baptises with water, but the King is yet to come, “One more powerful” whose sandals John declares he is unworthy to untie. With him would come judgement.
John would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Scriptures frequently attribute to the Holy Spirit the messianic fulfilment. The Gospel of Luke also gives prominence to the Holy Spirit.
The ‘winnowing fork’ was a great flat wooden shovel, with which grain was tossed into the air. The heavy grain fell to the ground and the separated chaff was blown away and later gathered and burned; thus the King would separate the good and bad.
In Scripture, ‘fire’ is often used to indicate the presence of the Saviour God. Fire also has a prominent place in liturgical services. In the same way, the reference to the ‘fiery’ arrival of messianic judgement has its roots in other Old Testament Traditions.
In view of this rich Biblical background there is a question as to whether John the Baptist identified this fire with the purifying and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit or if he added a new interpretation to death, to judgement and to the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.
Although John preached a sober message, he issued a summons to repent. He painted a picture of a judgement which we could meet with confidence, if we had discharged our duty to our neighbour and had served God faithfully in our daily work.
Matthew 5: 16
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven”.
“Lord, help me not to hide my light.
Save me from apathy and
from the blandness that so easily envelops us.
Let me use my energy
in ways that bless others and demonstrate Your love.
May the peoples praise you, O God”. Amen.
The light of Jesus was seen in many ways; one of the main ways, through what He did. He did not just talk about the love of God – He demonstrated it day after day.
o How can we demonstrate better in our lives our love for God?
o Do people notice what we do in our lives and give praise to God for what we are
o Do we inspire people to want to give praise to God through actions of their own?
o As individuals, do we live out love, even in some small way, every day?
o As members of our Church Community, how do we contribute to its ability to live
out love for the glory of God?
o During this period of Advent, how can we open our minds and hearts fully to the
Light of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Luke 3: 7-9: “You spawn of vipers, who put it into your heads to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruits to match repentance. Do not begin to say among yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father’. I tell you now that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”.  Mark 20: 1-16  Ezekiel 36: 26-27; Isaiah 44: 3 Leviticus 1: 7; 6: 2-6; Genesis 15: 17; Exodus 3: 1-2; Numbers 14: 14 Numbers 31: 23: “Everything that can withstand fire, shall be passed through fire and it shall be clean”. Malachi 4: 1: “See that day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evil doers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up says the Lord of hosts”.