Jesus and John the Baptist
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized— John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’
In today’s reading, Jesus is still in the early days of his ministry having left the company of John the Baptist and set out with his own disciples. He has been in Jerusalem where he cleansed the Temple and has then taught Nicodemus, the ‘teacher of Israel,’ about the things of God. Jesus is now baptizing in the Judean desert with his own disciples and the author is keen to establish Jesus’ authority over John the Baptist. In part, the issue is a question of numbers. Who is baptizing the most people?
Numbers are important then, but from this passage we can discern that playing our individual part in God’s work is more important. John the Baptist uses the metaphor of the bridegroom and the best man to describe his relationship with Jesus. In other words, he has a supporting role, preparing the way, but who wants the best man to hang around after the wedding is over?
There is a discussion between John’s disciples and a Jew about purification. We are not given any details but perhaps it is about differences between John’s disciples and Jesus’ disciples. Rather than getting drawn into a divisive discussion, John reminds the listeners of his role – that of the one who prepares the way. Anything else is secondary.
The author mentions that these events happened before John is thrown into prison. It is true that John must decrease but what he may not have realized was that his imprisonment and subsequent death would be a continuation of his role as precursor to Jesus. John’s fate prepared the way for Jesus, for the self denial of the cross, and Jesus in turn invites us to follow him in the way of the cross.
Blessings as we pray that we might follow the way of Jesus today and everyday. Be safe! Be well! The Spirit has come!
- Re-read the Methodist Covenant Prayer in the light of John the Baptist’s words.
- Think about times of decrease in your life. What might God want to reveal to you about these times?
- How easy do you find it to rejoice in the success of others, especially when things are not going well for you?