In this Sunday's Gospel reading John the Baptist calls out the Pharisees and Sadducees. Notes in the NAB translation of the Bible explain that Pharisees were "marked by devotion to the law... and the scribes, experts in the law, belonged predominantly to this group." The Sadducees, who John also attacked here, "were the priestly aristocratic party" and "accepted as scripture only the first five books of the Old Testament..., [rejecting] teachings not found in the Pentateuch, such as the resurrection of the dead." (Matthew 3:7-12)
John called them a "brood of vipers" and told them to "(p)roduce good fruit as evidence of your repentance." They rested on their religious laurels, proclaiming to be the children of Abraham and, therefore, not needing anything more for salvation. John warned them that "the ax lies at the root of the trees" - that their roots in Abraham could be cut down. If they do not find a stronger root in Christ, they will not survive the harvest.
How often today we hear people proclaim their repentance, that they belong to the chosen people of God and that is all they need. I wonder if John would give the same warning to us today? Even if Christ is our root, if we produce no good fruit as a result, will we be heavenly grain in the harvest? or blown aside as chaff, into the fire?
In verses 2 and 3 of the Old Testament reading, we're given a list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: "The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD." (Is 11:2-3) This is the Scripture that the Pharisees (if not the Sadducees) followed; right there is the "good fruit" they are to produce. These are the good fruits we are to produce as well - cultivating wisdom and understanding, taking counsel, strength, and knowledge from the Holy Spirit, and respecting God - fearing Him - for His greatness and power.