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Competitive objective: to decrease

After these things Jesus (c. AD 30) and his disciples came into Judean territory, and there he mingled with them and was baptizing. Now John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and they were arriving and being baptized - for John had not yet been thrown into prison. (John 3: 22)
How typical – today as in AD 30. Here’s a man (John the Baptist) faithfully serving his community by enabling them to show – by an outward action (baptism) – that they’ve had a change of heart and are sorrowful for all their past life.

And along comes a new baptizer (Jesus) and folk are flocking to him and being baptized.

The fact that John was doing his wonderful work in Aenon (“springs”) – clearly a suitable place – and that place was near Aenon (“peace”) seems almost to identify the one in the right in a competitive conflict. Perhaps even the meaning of the word Judea, the territory into which Jesus had entered, could have been inflammatory: “he shall be praised”. Which one is the “he”?

So a dispute occurred on the part of John’s disciples with a Judean concerning purification and they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, about whom you testified—look, this one is baptizing, and all are coming towards him.” 

Sure enough, the dispute surfaces. It arises over purification. Which baptism is effective in washing away one’s regrettable past? That of John? Or that of Jesus? The disputants ask John for his view. Surely he will confirm that he, John, is THE way – despite appearances?

John answered and said, “A man can receive not one thing unless it is given to him from the sky. You yourselves testify about me that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’, but that I am someone who had been sent out ahead of that one.’” 

John the Baptist starts with two facts, both of which have serious emotional consequences. First, his conviction is that everything – yes, everything a person is and has – comes from above. Anything John has is from above.

Second, he reminds the disputants that he has repeatedly told them that he is not their Messiah (their Christ) but was sent out - from above – to go ahead of that Messiah.

“The one having the bride is the bridegroom but the friend of the bridegroom, the one who has stood and who hears him, rejoices in joy through the voice of the bridegroom. So this the joy of mine is complete. It is necessary for that one to increase, but for me to decrease.” 

John had two more things to say to these disputants about the supposed conflict which they thought they had uncovered.

Third, then, John states, with total clarity, that the Messiah, Jesus, is the one who has the bride and who is therefore the bridegroom. Jesus their Messiah is calling out to his bride. He is the one who will cleanse and beautify his bride. He is the one to whom they should go. As for John, a friend of the bridegroom, he is joyful in joy to hear the voice of Jesus and to hear that folk are responding to that bridegroom’s voice.

It's John’s way of saying – Jesus your Christ, is my friend, who longs to be your friend too – and make your joy complete. He must increase.

Finally, John has a searching aphorism for the purification disputants to consider. “It is necessary for that one to increase but for me to decrease.” 

Sure enough, the bridegroom – Jesus the Messiah – increases when more and more people – his bride – flock to him. But what’s this about it being necessary (as John himself says) for him John, to decrease?

These days many people are rightly concerned that President Putin will never allow himself to decrease but will compete (backwards and downwards, not onwards and upwards) into global nuclear war. And almost all individuals are battling with someone convinced that they are in the right. Partners. Siblings. Neighbours. “There to be no decrease for me. I always win.”

Jesus the Christ, as bridegroom, decreased. He submitted to his own destruction by others. In order to bring those others - whoever-will-decrease – into being his eternal bride.  

Sinner Syvret

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