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"As he grows greater, I must grow less"

  • January 8, 2011
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"As he grows greater, I must grow less" – remarkable words from a remarkable man, one of the greatest figures of the New Testament, John the Baptist.

John understood his mission well: to prepare a people for the coming of the messiah, to ‘make straight his paths’, to be his herald. But the rugged personality of this prophet was so phenomenally popular, more than one of his followers felt that he, John, must be the messiah himself!

In today’s episode some of John’s followers take exception to the fact that Jesus – to whom John had given witness a little while earlier – is also baptizing in the Jordan, and drawing crowds, like John. They want John to put a stop to this.

“A man can only have what God gives him”, says John, acknowledging God’s gifts to him, and satisfied that he is so much and no more. He has no desire to usurp Jesus’s place. “I am not the messiah,” he adds, “I’m just his herald.”

He then uses a metaphor which is touching in its simplicity and truthfulness. “At the wedding, it is the bridegroom who is the centre of attraction, not the ‘best man’, not the bridegroom’s friend. It’s the bridegroom to whom the bride belongs. The best man is happy that this is so, and enjoys the love expressed by the bridegroom and his bride. He wants none of it for himself. Rather, it’s his joy to see them both happy.”

And John concludes, "it is for the messiah to grow in popularity and acceptance, not for me. The greater he grows, the happier I am, and the lesser I shall be. I’m nothing but his herald. Now that he has arrived, it’s time for me to fade away."

There are few people so utterly selfless that they allow Christ to take over their personalities completely. “Let them look at me, and see only Jesus,” as Cardinal Newman prayed. John the Baptist was one such man.
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