He Must Increase, I Must Decrease

That line does not appear in today’s Gospel from St. John, but it is the one that came to mind as I was praying with today’s passage.

When the Jews ask John who he is, and then challenge the fact the he is baptizing people even though he is not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet, John replies that “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

As I sat with that, contemplating the model that John is, I heard John’s later line to his disciples. When they complain that everyone is flocking to Jesus, John tells them “He must increase; I must decrease.”

At one level, John meant something very specific to him with that line. He was not the light, but the one who came to testify to the light. He was the best man, not the bridegroom. So, when Jesus came into his public ministry, John was willing – without jealousy, without rancor, without hesitation – to step aside and give Jesus center stage.

But at another level, “he must increase, I must decrease,” is a line that says something to each of us. If my aim as a Christian disciple is to see as Christ saw, to love as Christ loved, to be Christ in the world, something must happen. My small I ego must diminish so that Christ can grow in me. For Christ to take root in my heart, the small “I” must make some space for him.

He must increase, I must decrease. Not easy, but necessary.


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