I created this poster today, both as an Advent exhortation, but also as a rejoinder to those who see Christianity as a means to further demoralize and disenfranchise the poor. Yay me. Then I got nervous. What if that last sentence -- "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages" -- was taken the wrong way? What if some readers understood John the Baptist as telling the poor to stop agitating for a living wage? Would J the B oppose raising the minimum wage?
I hope that people see John as telling soldiers that their wages should be sufficient for them -- that they didn't have to supplement them with blackmail and extortion, alienating and impoverishing the very people they were supposed to protect. What's not clear to me is whether the soldiers that Luke talks about were Roman soldiers, or Jewish officers like those who protected the temple. It's more likely to be the latter, since Roman soldiers or their mercenaries would likely not have spoken Aramaic, the local language. Not to mention, Roman soldiers would not have understood "foreign" concepts like repentance and the end of the age.
But I probably have nothing to worry about. John's words are about sharing clothing and food with those in need. He links those words with advice to two sets of cheats -- tax collectors and the military. Perhaps in John's mind, these three groups were similar. Each keeps what is justly belongs to the poor.
What a Christmas it would be if we modeled ourselves more on John the Baptist than on the Magi. We might spend the day giving freely from our surplus rather than expecting to expand it!
Lord, we are hard of heart and unwilling to relinquish our grasp on our treasure. Teach us to be more openhanded and freer with the excess bounty that clogs our closets, attics and basements. Amen.