But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume 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. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
As John bellowed these words you had been clapping and whistling, chanting and laughing with the crowds—jeering at the sad faces of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The crowd was electric with John’s verbal lashing, and was merciless with their own taunts.
The long-fringed robes and the broad phylacteries of the religious leaders, which they had put on as a demonstration of the depth of their faith, now clung to them like a jester’s costume.
They had come to see what John was up to, and they had fallen into a trap. They had come to watch him, and yet they had become the focus of attention.
And then… with the laughter and shouting still hanging in their air… John the baptist turned from the Pharisees and Sadducees—the keepers of the Word and the tenders to the Temple—and he turned towards… you, and the people around you. With fierce eyes, lit like from within, he looked you over from top to bottom.
While you had moments earlier joined in on the jeering of the professionally religious, whose faults are freely available for all to see, and who make such easy targets, now you feel those same words stuck in your throat.
What fruit have I bore? Where are my sagging branches, heavy with the fruits of righteousness and compassion? Where have I shown myself to be on the side of God? Where have I been an agent of peace? Where have I stood on the side of the oppressed and impoverished? Where have I shown that the poor in spirit are the ones who are truly blessed?
The stones, lying at my feet… could these stones be shown to be more faithful than I? Children of Abraham?
John the Baptist, seething in anger that his sermon had been used as a means to mock and jeer others—to set them as unwelcome outsiders—looked at you. He turned and gazed over his shoulder at the Pharisees and the Sadducees, standing there stung, like they had just been spanked, and worried that they were about to take another round.
John then walked over to them. He gestured to one of them, and the man took off his phylactery and handed it to John. John strapped it to his forehead. He motioned to another for his fringed-robe, and the man gave it to him. He draped himself in it.
Then he looked across the crowd towards us, and he said:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume 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. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.