Second to another yet first among many – Saturday after Epiphany – John 3:22-30
We come to this passage immediately following the conversation in chapter-3 between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus has just finished His interview with Nicodemus in which Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again. Following that conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus and His disciples traveled about 50 miles to an area called Salim which is located along the Jordan River. John (the Baptist) was at the same place and was baptising people on the other side of the Jordan River.
This reading marks a stage in the transition from the preaching and ministry of John the Baptist to that of Jesus. Some of John’s disciples had joined Jesus at John’s prompting, “Look, here is the lamb of God” (John 1:36). Those that remained with John now seem to be upset that “all” are going to Jesus for Jesus ministry has begun to flourish and John’s influence is being eclipsed by Jesus ministry. What is the real issue here? Well, we could translate their feeling as, ‘he is getting more attention and it is making us feel less important, less successful. They suggest to John that perhaps it would have been better if he had not borne witness to Him and that he should stop mentioning His name. They are worried that John might lose his following.
What would we call that? Jealousy! It is comparison that is rooted in insecurity that breeds resentment. Without the Holy Spirit working grace in our hearts, that is the natural, human response we all have to such kinds of situations. We want other people to succeed, but not more than us! We would all like to think we are above it but most of us know that it is a potential in us.
The desire for recognition is a universal human drive. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction. This desire often drives much that we do in life. Actually, we all do need attention and recognition. It is part of human development and essential even for infants. It establishes that we have a unique place in life, a unique part to play. When that sense of self is secure it can play its part well. When it is not secure it can become an ego looking for validation and it can become as destructive as any power on earth.
John the Baptist knew who he was in the sight of God. He knew his strengths and his weaknesses, and knew that his life was to be centred on the one to come. This was not a drudge or burden for him: he rejoiced in the coming of Jesus and in his place in the mission and life of Jesus. He knew he was the announcer of good news, but not the good news itself. Something in him faded into insignificance when Jesus arrived; but this sense that he was second to another has made him first among many. In being humble we are big in the sight of God.
So, John uses an analogy of a wedding. He says Jesus is the bridegroom and John is the friend who attends the bridegroom. It is similar to what we would refer to today as the best man but involved even more. In the Jewish culture of the time this was a very prominent role. He was the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom. He was instrumental in the arranging of the wedding and the inviting people to the wedding. He brought the bride and the bridegroom together and guarded the bridal chamber making sure no others came in. He negotiated on behalf of the perspective groom (and his father) with a representative of the bride’s father. Arrangements had to be made to pay a work compensation to the bride’s family because they would be losing her labour in the home, and a dowry had to be paid to the bride’s father. In other words, you would want someone who was going to look out for your best interests! John saw himself as privileged to be entrusted to serve Jesus best interests.
John knows that his duty to arrange everything for the wedding of his friend Jesus to his bride, the people of Israel, has been fulfilled. The news his disciples brought to him was not bad news. It was good news! The groom and the bride are becoming wed. people are coming to Jesus! Great! John is overjoyed to here of Jesus success. John sowed Jesus reaped. With his mission accomplished, he can retire with joy. He would soon suffer martyrdom (Mark 6:14-29).
In this testimony of Scripture, we may have the clearest window into the understanding that allowed John the Baptist to navigate the defining moments of life so well. That true success in life is embracing the role given to us by God and that true success in life finds great satisfaction beyond oneself.