“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.”
(Matthew 3:7-8, NRSV)
I asked a friend about his Thanksgiving holiday with his extended family. He said it was okay. When his tone didn't convince me that it was okay, and I pushed a little bit, he started unloading about the real nature of his experience. He said it was not only NOT okay; it was horrible. I didn't have to ask again for him to tell me about it. His mother drove him crazy. Every time he tried to help with anything, she would go behind him and do it over. Whenever he reminisced about some holiday in the past, she would correct his version of the story by replacing it with her substantially different recollection. But the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was when he called her out on her demeaning behavior, and she told him he was always too sensitive, and he needed to get over it.
His mother didn't mean to belittle her son; instead, as a perfectionist, a stickler for the facts, and a self-righteous person, she can't see how her re-doing, correcting, and projecting her son's weaknesses is not in his best interest. She would have made a great Pharisee!
The Pharisees were the religious elite of Judaism. They were the best of the best. At least they were until they began to think too highly of themselves. It's okay for other people to admire our spiritual stature; however, it's dangerous territory for us to ascribe our worth to the Kingdom of God. It's always best to stay humble about our spiritual contributions, even amid heaping praise from others, lest we fall prey to the demons of perfectionism, narrow interpretations, and self-righteousness.
John the Baptist saw these religious elitists approaching him in the wilderness in hopes of finding fault with this eccentric preacher. Once they judged his inadequacies, they could dispense with him and his popular appeal with a rumor, with innuendo, or with outright charges of heresy.
John was ready for them. If they wanted to challenge his integrity, they needed to demonstrate that their "way" of being religious produced more satisfying fruit than his "way" of being in a relationship with God. John the Baptist bridged the Law of Moses (represented by the Pharisees and Sadducees) and the Law of Love that Jesus was about to reveal. Whereas the Law of Moses could be manipulated and partitioned off against certain kinds of people, the Law of Love was universal and free to all who desire to receive it.
The Law of Love sets us free from having to keep up with all the rules and, instead, invites us to always do the most loving thing we can do. It's that simple. And that hard!