Proud to be Humble? - A Reflection on John 3:22-30
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Have you ever heard about the guy who was so humble he became proud he was humble? Well, that illustrates the problem with humility. We may start out with the goal of being humble, but eventually, we fall into the trap of pride because it is cleverly set. And unlike any other trap, what makes this one terrible is that one is not even aware that one is trapped. Tell any prideful person that he is proud and listen to the protests. Which is why John the Baptist becomes such a wonderful example.
If anybody could have fallen into the trap of pride it was John the Baptist. He was conceived as a result of a miracle - his father was old and his mother was barren (see Luke 1:7). He was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb (see Luke 1:15). Now, barely in his thirties, he already enjoyed a huge following, baptizing people who flocked to him by the thousands. Even Jesus would say that he was the greatest man in human history (see Matthew 11:11).
So how did he do it? I am convinced it is because he loved God in the manner prescribed. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27) and when one truly loves God in this manner, everything that one does, becomes about God because there is no self-love; no chance for the ego to manifest.
John knows God in a very real way and when Jesus is about to appear on the scene, he acknowledges who Jesus is and who he is in relation to the Christ. I am not the light, he says (John 1:8). I am not the Christ (John 1:2). I am not Elijah or the prophet (John 1:21). I am just a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing a way for the coming of Jesus (John 1:23). And here, in today’s passage, where a kind of war starts before his disciples and Jesus’ disciples, he doesn’t fuel the battle with egotistic remarks.
He says again, “I am not the Messiah; he is.” And then he adds — and I think we really need to listen to this — “for this reason my joy has been fulfilled.” When Jesus tells us to make him the whole and sole reason for our existence it isn’t to feed some deep hole in his heart but to fill the hole in our own. And for this reason, he must increase and we must decrease. Paul understood this very well, which is why he declared: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). See the amazing people both were.
We can be amazing too.