“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10)
Once again the brief story of John the Baptist confronts me. The necessary precursor to Jesus (it seems), he is a stark and fiery preacher that demands repentance as preparation for the coming of the Son of God. He tells everyone to turn from their sin, and has especially harsh words for the religious elites of the time.
“The ax is already at the roots of the trees…” A powerful image, reminding these latter hearers–and me–that the time has come to make a decision. That there is such a thing as justice. As judgment. That bad, dead, fruitless living needs come to an end. That there is a great “No” to the gospel as well as a great “Yes.”
Being theologically trained and suspicious of the over-individualization of spirituality and sin, I might read this story and default to thinking of the ways in which all of society is broken. And that’s true. Our whole world is a fallen place. But then that is only part of the story. Because it isn’t just the world that is barren, false, and a in need of repentance. It is me too.
Picturing the an ax at the root of my life reminds me that judgment doesn’t start with the world. It starts with Joshua Ziefle. It means looking within and being aware of where I am not producing good fruit…far from it. It necessarily humbles me before the Lord. And it keeps me from getting so excited about denouncing all those other sinners…because I’ve got quite a lot to deal with right here.
In light of this, maybe we Christians–personally and societally–simply need to spend some more time listening to John the Baptist.