John’s disciples are challenged, and apparently drawn to, the temptation of “othering,” that is, allowing themselves to be divided from other members of the human family by suspicion of bad will. If their mentor John is truly the one to follow, then this other Jew (Jesus?) and his followers must be resisted. To that, John replies, “I said that I am not the Christ, but that I was sent before him. . . He must increase; I must decrease.”
Is there any wonder that Jesus said that no one born of woman was greater than John. The human tendency to protect our own turf is so strong. Yet John is able to step into the shadow and let Jesus, the light of the world, light the stage upon which God’s reign will be revealed through him.
Each of us has been given various gifts by God, and it is only natural that we use those gifts to make our way in the world. However, while we are using our various talents and abilities, we must guard against the tendency to forget whence those gifts came. St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians that each of us has been given a role to play, but that the role must be played for the benefit of the community, not for our own benefit. St. John is the best example of someone who did what God asked of him without letting it become his and his alone.
In this First Letter, St. John exhorts us to be on guard against idols. Perhaps the biggest idol is the one that we create in order to gain recognition in this world. Every day, it is necessary to whisper St. John’s prayer: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator