Who are you?
I do not know if you’ve seen it, but there is this ancestry.com commercial that shows a man dressed in lederhosen with German music playing in the background. The man mentions how, for years he believed he was of German descent causing him to partake in German foods and dance.
Well, he took a DNA test from ancestry.com and discovered that the majority of his DNA was Scottish. There was no trace of German. The scene then cuts to the man wearing a kilt. His life was changed because of his DNA.
The commercial is funny, exaggerating our culture’s obsession with DNA information. But, the DNA discovery of a friend’s wife caused all of these questions to hit closer to home.
For her entire life my friend’s wife did not know who her father was. Her mother refused to tell her saying that, “it was for the best.” Her mother might have been right.
Through some complicated and unlikely circumstances that I’m not going to worry about describing, the woman received an email detailing who her father was after-all. She stared at the name and did a quick Google search. She found out that her father had murdered one of his girlfriends.
The information was shocking, but it should not have bore any bearing on who she felt she was. But, it did.
Like an unwanted song that plays through your head and you cannot get it to stop; so her mind lingered on and on about the sins of her father and her own instances of anger. She did have a temper. Would she also attack the ones she loved? It was all ridiculous, she had never been in trouble her entire life, but the information that she contained bad DNA left her feeling dirty; and it gnawed away at her soul.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who believe that their DNA awards them privilege. And, maybe it does in some cases. Maybe, the fact that you were born into a rich family will mean that you will never really have to work.
It is easy to believe that your DNA can offer you inherent advantages. Being born in America allows us the privileges of American citizenship and the freedoms and relative economic well-being that citizenship can provide. Some people will hold that privilege tight, refusing to share.
In John the Baptist’s time, there were those to who clung to Abraham as their ancestor. You see, it is through Abraham that they and their ancestors became the people of God. Through the miracle of birth, these people were given their identity as God’s chosen people, and they clung to that for all it was worth.
To both those who cling to their DNA and those who are fearful of what their DNA reveals, John the Baptist has a clear message: “You are not your DNA.”
He says it like this: “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.”
John calls those children of Abraham who ride on the privilege of their ancestors a “brood of vipers.” In other words, the children of Abraham who cling to their DNA are “children of snakes.” God can give a rock Abrahamic DNA. It means nothing.
Corporations make this mistake all the time. They will elect the child of the corporation’s founder as the next great CEO of the corporation even though evidence about corporate health clearly suggests that it is better to just give the job to the best candidate. Just because your father was a great person who built the company does not mean you will be.
John the Baptist is saying the same thing. Just because Abraham was obedient to God’s will does not mean anyone else will be. Do you want to show your obedience to God? Then do the things that show Godly obedience!
You are what you do.
The things that John suggests to those standing there out in the wilderness do are not unreasonable. What he says the people should do are not nearly at the “camel going through the eye of the needle” level of difficulty.
“If we are what we do, what should we do?” the crowds ask him.
"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." In other words, living in a Godly ways is not rocket science. If you have extra clothes, share with those who do not. If you have extra food in the pantry, share with those who do not. You can do this stuff. And, you should.
“Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’”
Again, this is not rocket science. Being who God created us to be is not some great mystery or impossible question to answer.
Are you a teacher? Then make certain the children are actually learning.
Are you a laborer? Then make certain that you do quality work and that you treat your co-workers with love.
Are you in law enforcement? Then protect and serve as you have been commissioned; do not use your power in selfish ways.
Are you a farmer? Then care for the creation that God has given into your care.
Are you a rocket scientist. Well, then I guess it is rocket science. Make certain you check and double check and triple check your calculations. People's lives literally depend on it.
You are what you do according to John.
Now, just so you do not get confused, this is not about your salvation. You are claimed by God as one of God’s children, and that is that. You do not do these things to earn any sort of heavenly reward. But, since you are one of God’s children, these things are what living in God’s family is about.
Remember, in your own family Uncle Chuck may not follow the family values...but he is still family. It is the same with God’s family.
But, since we are a part of God’s family, John urges us to change our ways. And, if we refuse to change our ways, Jesus has some nice winnowing techniques the get our wheat clean and to remove our chaff. God cares about the world God created, and God wants it to be treated with care. God will make that happen if need be, but would it not be better if we just go ahead and repent, turning to a new way of life without the painful process of winnowing?
You are a member of God’s family. You are a brother or sister of Christ. But, that alone does not make you a loving person. God can raise up rocks to be loving Christians. Only love makes you a loving person.
You are what you do. So, you ask John, “What should I do?” Whatever it is, it will have everything to do with loving God and your neighbor in all that you do because you have been placed in a holy family of love.