December 10, 2009

brood of vipers

My favorite sermon prep site has started a fan page on facebook. The really cool thing about the page is the wall feature. Anyone who is a fan of The Text this Week can add comments on the fan page wall, and many do: often a quick glimpse into what they are preaching.

I'm still learning how to sort through the thousands of comments each week, but this week there was one that really caught my eye. A guy named John Cordes asks, " If John's audience is a 'brood' of vipers -- the offspring -- then who, or what, are the parents? Is John really insulting his own audience, or their 'parents'?"

Understanding that anyone can say any word means anything, I went to the dictionary and found three definitions for the word "brood."

1. the young of an animal
2. a group having a similar nature or origin
3. the children of a family

This question is extremely interesting as it relates to John's audience in Luke. In Luke's account, John is preaching to the crowd whereas in Matthew's version this note of derision is aimed exclusively at the Pharisees and Saducees. I'm reminded of the old Roman Catholic model of relationship between priest and parishioner - Father and Child - and I can't help but wonder if the members of the crowd aren't seen by John as the spiritual children of the Pharisees and Saducees (in Luke) who are themselves the children of a tradition that has been perverted to the point of inaction and sin.

John, as the last of the Old Testament Prophets, is pointing to the system of religion that has failed to honor God and calling people, the children of that system, to change.

Does this reading help us hear John a little better? Are we less likely to shut down when we hear the seemingly harsh tone of "you brood of vipers"? And then, how do we hear John speaking to us today? What are we the children of and how do we, the inheritors of corrupt and sinful institutions, hear the call to repentance?

The scandal of the particular turned on its head means that individuals are called to change institutions precisely because God cares about all things.

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