‘What must we do, then?’

Third Sunday of Advent Year C

Luke’s gospel portrays John the Baptist as a social reformer: he calls on us to share with the hungry and with the needy, to act with justice and to avoid violence. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.

Luke 3:10-18

10 When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do, then?’ 11 he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ 12 There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ 13 He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ 14 Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’
15 A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, 16 so John declared before them all, ‘I baptize you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ 18 As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.

Other readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18 Isaiah 12 Philippians 4:4-7


Luke’s gospel gives prominence to John the Baptist as a social reformer. The question ‘What must we do then?’ resonates through this reading. The answers are of extraordinary relevance to us. We are called upon to share with the hungry and with the needy, to act with justice and to avoid violence.

Luke also stresses the sense of expectation among the people, who even think that John might be the promised Messiah, the Christ. John then speaks about the mission of the Messiah, describing him as ‘more powerful’. John is aware of the battle the Messiah will wage against the forces of evil. The baptism he will bring will demand a choice between working for goodness, truth and justice, or working for lesser and contrary aims.

Notice that Luke tells us that John preaches ‘good news’, and refers to the ‘many other things’ John said to encourage the people. There is a demanding choice to be made for justice and love, a choice against violence, hatred and selfishness. But the overwhelming atmosphere here is of joyous anticipation of the one who will bring the good news, and who is the good news, the one who will bring healing, forgiveness and new life. During Advent, and particularly on this Third Sunday of Advent, we sense already the profound joy of the coming of the Saviour.

What demands of justice and non-violence does the gospel bring to me today?

Do I welcome the coming of Christ as good news in the deepest sense?

Pray for those who strive for a just distribution of the world’s riches.

Pray for the grace to ‘live simply so that others can simply live’.

INT-IMG_5349 Fr Adrian Graffy (3)Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.

Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”

He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”

Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).

Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy