To see the readings from the Mass lectionary for today, click here.
He must increase and I must decrease. John 3:30
Today we remember the birth of John the Baptist, host of Jesus’ first public appearance as an adult. The story is rich in a humor we don’t readily associate with the fierce Baptist, as everyone resorts to pantomime to get the baby’s name clear, even though the Gospel reports his father Zechariah as mute, not deaf. The child’s mother has to step in and settle the question with the sort of common sense matter-of-factness we will not see again in her son’s dramatic life story. The story is even richer in promise, as John’s father sketches the power of God’s extravagant promise of salvation wrought by the Messiah, whose coming John will announce to a world far broader than the shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem.
John the Baptist’s self-description appears in a much later passage of the gospel when the two children, Messiah and Baptist, are adult. The time has come when John will step back and let Jesus step to the fore. So the words “He must increase; I must decrease” belong to his own more or less farewell discourse to his disciples, far simpler than Jesus’ would be at the last supper. They are hardly the claim of an over-achiever. But John, for all his apparently self-sufficient ferocity, silently accomplished a goal far greater than any of us can manage without large infusions of courage and strength from the Holy Spirit. He accepted his own truth in God’s plan and renounced all attempts to promote himself to stardom. St. Benedict would have approved of it. Here he was simply sketching the life he was called to live, a life of both obedience and humility, however unlikely it looks clad in camelhair and leather.