John 3: 22-30 – Saturday after Epiphany (Audio Bible, Spoken Word)
22 ¶ After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judæa; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
23 ¶ And John also was baptizing in Ænon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
24 For John was not yet cast into prison.
25 ¶ Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.
26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
Jesus and his disciples have moved south into Judea, and Jesus and John are baptizing people very near to one other. John’s location is precisely stated in these Gospel verses: he is at Aenon, an Aramaic word meaning wells, near Salim, which was to the northeast of Samaria, about thirteen miles to the south of the Sea of Galilee. In these verses, John’s Gospel develops the information given to us in the Synoptics: we learn that Jesus’ public ministry began while John the Baptist’s was current, and that there was no rivalry between Jesus and John; indeed, that John the Baptist rejoiced in Jesus’ beginning his ministry.
We may recall in reading these verses just how revolutionary John the Baptist’s teaching was, and we are reminded of the mass following John had accrued. Jesus himself followed John, a part of his movement, and was baptized by John, humbling himself in this way. Now the revolution advances a step further, as Jesus moves on from John to create his own movement. Both Jesus and John preach a gospel of repentance; both preach a baptism for the purification of sins; and both attract the crowds of normal people, the poor, the dispossessed, the everyday people, living from hand to mouth each day and praying for something better. Jesus, though, is the one to come; he is God incarnate.
When John the Baptist’s disciples worry about Jesus’ baptism – the baptism offered to the people by Jesus’ disciples – they go to John and express their anxiety. John’s response is beautiful: he is happy to know that Jesus’ time has arrived, that Jesus’ ministry has begun. John tells his disciples to see the good, telling them that nobody receives anything that isn’t given by God, that if Jesus does such beautiful things, it is because they are given by God. John reaffirms that he is not the Messiah; that he is the one sent before to prepare the way.
John compares himself to the friend of the bridegroom, who would play a part in Jewish weddings – as the best man. He is present as the wedding celebrations commence, and stands by and rejoices as the bridegroom is united with the bride. Jesus is the bridegroom. All those who come to Jesus are the bride. We, the Church, are Christ’s bride. John sees the beginning of Christ’s Church and rejoices. John’s purpose is complete. It has been the work of a lifetime, and it is a job well done. John announces with satisfaction: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ It is for Jesus, now, to complete the work of God.
‘The Baptist knew his mission was one of preparing the way of the Lord; he was to fade into the background once the Messiah arrived, which he did faithfully and humbly. In the same way, a Christian, when engaged in apostolate, should try to keep out of the limelight and allow Christ to seek men out; he should be always emptying himself, to allow Christ fill his life. “It is necessary for Christ to grow in you, for you to progress in your knowledge and love of him: for, the more you know him and love him, the more he grows in you. […] Therefore, people who advance in this way need to have less self-esteem, because the more a person discovers God’s greatness the less importance he gives to his own human condition” (St Thomas Aquinas, “Commentary on St John, in loc.”).’ (From the Navarre Bible commentary.)
Almighty, ever-living God,
through Christ your Son you made of us a new creation.
Shape us, then, in his likeness,
since in him our human nature now lives in you.
Through Christ our Lor