Reading: John 3:22-36
The modern-day spiritual teacher, David Hawkins, was asked, “What is the fastest route to enlightenment?” And though you might guess he would respond with directives like: ‘Love,’ ‘Prayer,’ ‘Devotion,’ ‘Faith,’ or ‘Service,’ instead his response was: ‘Humility.’
That just floored me… On the one hand humility seems so, well, humble, sort of a semi-precious virtue compared to those other more glittery gems. On the other hand it strikes me as infinitely more difficult to practice. Love, prayer, service, those things I can toss into my spiritual handbag and pull out when needed, but humility? That’s more of a paradigm shift: a completely new way of living and interacting with others… God help me!
Today’s reading made me think of that humility challenge. It opens with John the Baptist’s disciples breathlessly coming up to him to report that Jesus is now baptizing, “and all are going to him!” Imagine a 21st century corporate executive getting that kind of news: another company has moved into our territory and is doing exactly what we do and now everyone has switched to them! You can envision what that sets into motion and all the energy and resources that will be poured into fighting the competitor.
But John accepts the news with grace and is simply delighted; he affirms that Jesus is the real thing: “You yourselves are my witnesses… I said, ‘I am not the messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.'” John describes himself as “the friend of the bridegroom,” just happy to be on the periphery of the big event, perhaps giving the toast and rejoicing in the good fortune of his dear friend, the groom: “My joy has been fulfilled.”
What a beautiful and self-deprecating response. It occurs to me that John the Baptist is one of the few people we meet in the New Testament who truly “gets” Jesus. As this Bible passage unfolds it shows that John fundamentally understands Jesus to be God’s representative and sees that embracing his teachings will truly bring eternal life.
It must be with some sadness that John observes how Jesus’ message is being rejected: “He testifies… yet no one accepts his testimony.” John presciently sees the big picture: the promise, the hope, the refutation. Perhaps it is his humility, his ability to put Jesus first that allows him greater insight. If I could put my ego aside, how much more would I understand? How much more would I grow?
And that brings me to the real nugget in this passage, where John frames his relationship to Christ:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30
That, to me, is a tatoo-worthy definition of humility that helps me understand how I can practice humility in my daily life; how I can actually make that paradigm shift.
The little “me” — my ego, my titles, my bank account (taking creative license here), my life story, my job, my possessions, my appearance, my church, and yes, even my family — are things of this world and I would do well to decrease my attachment to them. Fortunately for my family, this doesn’t mean I stop loving them — quite the contrary — but it does mean that I come to the realization that they, and all those other things, are material and must decrease in significance to create space for the spiritual….
When I set the trappings of life aside, or at the very least put them into perspective, I can be in touch with that essential self that is God-connected. I can enjoy the “increase” side of the formula: I can love better, more deeply and less conditionally; I can be more tolerant and less judgmental; and I can find peace and centeredness even when things seem to go awry.
Author: Valerie Reinke