From Above

By Sherry Black

A Reading from the Gospel of John 3:22-36

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23 John 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.)

25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26 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.” 27 John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 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. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath.

Meditation

In our gospel reading today, John’s disciples are troubled to find that Jesus and his followers are baptizing, and more and more people are following Jesus. Likely they were jealous on behalf of their movement, on behalf of their leader. After all it was John who baptized Jesus — doesn’t that make John greater?

Coincidentally, I’m writing this on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, June 24th. It’s a few days past the summer solstice, and days are getting incrementally shorter, mirroring John’s words, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” I love how even our astronomical calendar imitates John’s decreasing — and Jesus’ increasing — though perhaps we see this even better after the winter solstice, when the cycle reverses and days become incrementally longer than the nights.

And I also love that most paintings and icons of John the Baptist show him with an outstretched index finger, pointing to Christ, the one from heaven. John is always the messenger, the prophet, the friend of the bridegroom, deflecting attention away from himself and toward Jesus.

John proclaimed Jesus not as a good teacher, not as a rabbi or prophet, not as a most excellent or wise human being, but as one who came from heaven and is therefore above all other people on earth. Jesus is God incarnate, God in the flesh, God walking on the earth in human form. “The one who comes from above is above all. … He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.”

Like John, may we always point to Jesus, the Name above all Names, both in our words and in our actions. He must increase and I must decrease!

The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for 10 years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Mbhashe – The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Christ & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, New York, N.Y.

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