1 John 5:14-21
Whose baptism is more effective? Whose ministry is more important? Who should stand at center stage — John or Jesus? The disciples of John the Baptist demanded to know. Their question betrayed a hefty dose of jealousy and competition. After all, both John and Jesus had charismatic and vibrant ministries. Jesus was ascending in renown; John was at the height of his popularity. Even Herod feared John’s vast influence among the people.
But John had a different sense of his identity and mission. He explained to his disciples that he must neither presume to exceed the calling he received from God, nor must he compare himself with others. They may call him "rabbi," Jesus may call him Elijah, and many others the Baptist. But John wanted there to be no mistake about his role and his relationship to Jesus. The only title he would embrace was that of best man, shoshben in Hebrew, to Jesus, the bridegroom. Such a powerful metaphor.
What is John saying? Israel is the bride, as the Old Testament depicts the people of God. Jesus, the bridegroom, is the long-awaited king and messiah. And John is his best man. He is there to make the necessary preparations for the wedding feast. He will witness to the marriage. He will stand alongside the bridegroom to make sure all attention was riveted on him. And once the bride and bridegroom have been brought together, John’s work, the work of the best man will be completed. Thus, John announces that Jesus "must increase, but I must decrease."
What else is John saying? Best man that he is, John is reminding us that the bridegroom loves his bride, meaning us, with an everlasting love. Jesus will return to claim his bride. And as we await his coming, we must remain faithful to the one who loves us so much, who is preparing a place we will call home for eternity. The table at the Messianic banquet, the wedding feast, will be lavishly set. The invitation list will include a countless number of angels and saints. But among the enormous crowd, it will be easy to recognize John. He will be the best man standing next to bridegroom to welcome us.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.