The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.
Jesus described John the Baptist in extravagant terms that would have shocked his Jewish hearers: ‘A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet… For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come’ (Matthew 11:9-14).
But John’s assessment of himself – though he had every reason to be proud – was that he was unworthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals.
There is something pathetic, and also embarrassing, about people who find it necessary to blow their own trumpets, who can’t resist the opportunity to inform others of their achievements – or even of their good deeds. Perhaps this applies to all of us, to some extent. Some may have greater reason than others to be proud of ourselves. But John’s example challenges us all.
Jesus made it clear that playing to the gallery was inappropriate. ‘When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’, he said, ‘so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’ (Matthew 6:3-4). The praise of other people may flatter and deceive; Jesus’ ‘Well done’ is the only accolade worth living for.
But John was doing something far greater than modestly stepping back to place Jesus in the limelight. His whole reason for living was to prepare the way for Jesus. And when, by the Jordan, Jesus appeared, a shout of rapturous recognition burst from his lips, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29).
There’s a song we sing which goes, ‘You’re the reason that I live, Jesus, Jesus’. How true is that for me? For you? If Jesus is indeed the centre, the focus, the passion of our lives, there is no place for attention-seeking and conceit.
Help me today, Lord, to step aside – at home, at work, among friends or strangers – so that you may be clearly seen in your love, compassion and beauty.