Out of the Way

By Chuck Alley

A Reading from the Gospel of John 3:22-30

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24— John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. 25Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26They 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.” 27John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29He 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. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”


Old habits are hard to break. We do not have to be imprisoned by addictions to experience the bondage to habitual ways of thinking and doing. In their milder form, we explain them as our natural reactions to certain circumstances and stimuli. For example, we tend to be competitive. Generally this is a good trait, in that it provides the energy behind what we promote, including the Church, various missions and ministries, and our faith in Jesus. It is also the fuel for our loyal support for our leaders and friends. On the negative side, it can blind us to the truth and promote division through a “party spirit” (1 Cor. 3:1ff). Also, it is far too easy to dismiss the message of one who is not one of us or like us.

The problem with such competitive thinking is that it places the focus on us rather than the other. At its root, competition is self-promotional. Our inherent self-centeredness inhibits our ability to hear the word of transformation. We tend to live looking down into the well of water baptism and never lifting our eyes to the baptism of the Spirit. John was the transitional figure in moving baptism from ritual purification, through symbolic spiritual cleansing and rebirth, and into transformation by the Holy Spirit. That is a transition required of all Christians (the transformation with or without manifestation of the charismatic gifts, but always manifesting the fruit; Gal. 5:22-23). But in order to make the change we must take on John’s attitude: “He must become greater, I must become less.”

Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.

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Today we pray for:

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