Benny Nalkara, CMI
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). This spontaneous response made by John the Baptist when he was told that even his disciples began to go after Jesus, can be considered as one of the most beautiful statements of the entire New Testament. Speaking the language without the word, “I” is not an easy task especially when one is amidst the glittering world of praise and worship. It expresses the humility and other-centredness of John, the forerunner of Jesus. The greatness of John the Baptist was that he showed no signs of envy seeing the growth of others. This mind-set of John may be considered much greater than the courage he showed in front of Herod to tell the truth or the austerity he lived in the wilderness.
In the Gospel of John we come across three testimonies of John the Baptist. The first one is about John’s own testimony about himself (Jn 1:19-28). To the question of the priests and Levites sent by the Jews of Jerusalem about his identity, he gave an official and judicial testimony. Three questions were asked to him, namely, “Was he the Messiah? Elijah? or a Prophet?” These three questions were based on the expectations of the people about the messiah. John’s testimony to this query was a negative one saying, “not I” and he added that he was the voice of the one crying out in the desert. To proclaim in public, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of Him” demands a sense of the mission as well as an attitude of humility. His humility and ability to find greatness in others were revealed further when he said that he was not worthy to untie the sandal strap of the one who was coming after him (Cfr. Jn 1:27). Only his transparency and straightforward nature made him to behave like that. He could have easily enjoyed all the respect at least for a while, if he had kept quiet.
The second testimony of John the Baptist is a testimony to Jesus. He recognizes Jesus and testifies as “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the World. ” This title attestation is followed by another theological testimony about the pre-existence of Jesus – “He existed before me. ” The noteworthy thing here is that John is bringing himself to the picture to make the comparison with Jesus to prove the pre-existence of Jesus. In fact chronologically John was six months elder than Jesus. But by pointing out the pre-eminence of Jesus in comparison with himself, John was proclaiming that Jesus was above everyone and beyond the history. Only when the ego diminishes in one’s heart and mind, Christ is filled and proclaimed. Because of this ego-less mind-set only John could recognize Jesus as the Saviour and to point Jesus out as the “Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36) and to fulfil the mission entrusted with him.
The final testimony of John is in the context of the report that his disciples began to go after Jesus whom he testified (Jn 22-30). In fact this final testimony shows us the loveliness of the humility of John the Baptist. John didn’t feel injured, neglected or forgotten at this reporting of the disciples. He told them that he had never expected anything else. His response made it clear that he was merely sent as the herald, the forerunner and the preparer to the greater one to come. By presenting Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church, the new Israel as the bride, John claims a role for him the friend of the bridegroom. The friend of a bridegroom in the custom of Israel acted as the liaison between the bridegroom and the bride and after completing his task willingly and gladly faded out of the centre of the picture. John’s task was to bring Jesus and Israel together and he was happy enough to fade into obscurity. With an overwhelming joy only John might have said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease.
John the Baptist knew that God had given him a subordinate role to play and he was contended with that role. In a world where people look for great things to do and for great positions to adorn, John’s attitude is unparalleled one. To accept what is true and to receive what one deserves is not an easy task. But that will uproot all jealousies, all heart burning and all resentfulness in life. The followers of Christ are called to present Jesus to the world. This task demands a subordinate role to play and a language without the word “I” to speak. For fulfilling this task, as St Paul puts it, one should do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than him/herself. One should look not only to his/her own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).