This is a monologue / narrative sermon based on Matthew 3:1–12. It’s told from the point of view of an anonymous man.
James and I grew up in Nazareth. We were best friends; inseparable; always getting into scrapes together.
One Sabbath, at the synagogue, we crept up behind Rabbi Cohen and tied the tassels on his shawl together. We nearly got away with it too, but then he leaned forward in his prayers when we weren’t expecting it and he felt the tug from behind. He was furious. Of course we said we were sorry but, the truth be told, we were only sorry that we got caught!
Rabbi Cohen would say, [grandiose] “Repentance is like the sea: one can bathe in it at any time.” [wry] Except that in the case of our sorry sinful state, our repentance had to be there and then. It had to satisfy him. James and I hated him for that.
It seemed that Rabbi Cohen always wanted us turn away from something good, or else face something bad. It felt like a pretty miserable deal so you can guess how much repenting James and I have done since we grew up.
[thoughtful] But recently… James visited me. He wanted to talk about his cousin John. John has… taken the message of repentance to new extremes. He’s living in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey, like he’s the prophet Elijah. Like he’s someone you should listen to.
And he’s certainly being heard! He’s being heard by the Jews and the Jewish leaders… and the Romans and the Roman leaders. Telling all of them to repent. No one is saying that John hasn’t got guts. James just wondered whether John has any sense.
And for all the times I hated how the powerful and respected Rabbi Cohen bore down on James and me when we were young, I find it hard not to respect John for taking on the big boys. He tells it like it is. And there’s so refreshing about that.
[like a confession] Yes, I went to hear him. Though I didn’t tell James I was going. It was dry and hot and the crowds were oppressive. I watched John and his disciples baptising people in the River Jordan. I’d been baptised with water several times before. But watching them going under the water and coming up out again, it was like they were washing their hearts — their innermost being.
It’s a funny thing, repentance. It’s like looking in a mirror, a perfect mirror, for the first time. It wasn’t that I was sorry for what I’d done, it wasn’t that I felt guilt, it wasn’t even that I felt shame. I just saw clearly for the first time, the emptiness, the pitifulness, the lifelessness of everything that I had once valued and I wanted to turn away from it.
I asked John to baptise me and he did. Then I asked him what I should do and he said I should live in peace with all men, in as much as it was down to me. [wry] I’d have preferred it if he’d told me to sell all my possessions and give them to the poor; I didn’t want to greet Rabbi Cohen with peace. But I knew I had to leave my resentment at the bottom of the Jordan.
When I returned to Nazareth, I told James I’d been baptised. He wasn’t impressed. John talked a lot about people being divided. He said someone is coming, who will separate the wheat from the chaff, the fruitful from the unfruitful. Will James and I be separated? I don’t know.
[invigorated] But I do know that the choice I make is important and for the first time, there is something I want to turn to: the kingdom of heaven. John said it is near, it is coming. And when you see tax-collectors giving back the money they’ve swindled, when you see soldiers treating people with respect, when you see pimps giving up the game – it makes you wonder if the kingdom of heaven is already here.
I told James that I wanted to live in peace with him. And he believed me. He said he didn’t want to lose our friendship either, and I felt comfort in that.
But then he looked at me and said, “Just promise me something.” He said, “Promise me you’ll stay away from my brother. Because I have a feeling my brother Jesus is going to be a lot more trouble than my cousin John.”
This is my own creative work. If you like this sketch and want to use it, please contact me.
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