For a moment, imagine, if you will, that you are an aspiring athlete, artist, musician, writer, chef or whatever… By a stroke of good fortune, you manage to secure as your mentor the person you consider to be tops in the field. At once you begin to study under that person and hone your skills, soaking up everything you can learn from your champion.
One day after your lesson your mentor introduces you to a person she considers THE expert in the field. In fact, she suggests that if you really want to perfect your skills this is the person under whom you should study; leave your classes with her and follow that other person lead.
In a sense, this is what is happening here in this Gospel text. John the Baptist is a great prophet. Jesus himself once called him the greatest prophet who ever lived. Naturally, John has picked up a few disciples, people who are devoted to him as their spiritual leader. But now John has recognized that somebody else has come along who is far greater then he will ever be. In fact, when Jesus shows up, John realizes that he is now in the presence of One whose sandals he is not even worthy to untie. He may be a prophet, but this man is the Lamb of God, the Son of the Most High, the very Savior of the world.
This is astonishing, really, for what preacher would point his disciple to another’s preacher’s ministry? Here we see that John recognizes his calling and that he is fully in agreement with his purpose, which is not self-promotion. Instead, as John explains in the early part of his gospel: “He must increase, I must decrease.” His following must grow; my purpose is to point you to His way. He is the chosen one of GOD, I am not worthy to even unloosen his shoes.
If you’ve ever thought about it, (or think about it now) you may realize that one of life’s more challenging roles is to take the second place when once you’ve held first place. School principals who step back into the classroom; heads of departments who now work the floor; a committee or commission chair who now is worker-bee; parents who cut the apron strings so their child can soar or, in a case close to home, a superior who rotates out of leadership. S. Lynn Marie McKenzie writes about this dynamic in her article on “Servant Leadership” in the Fall Issue of BENEDICTINES. (And it fits right in this week with the reading from the Rule, chapter 2, on the Qualities of the Prioress.) Sister Lynn reminds the reader that “one does not begin monastic life as a prioress but begins as a member of the community, and one usually does not end monastic life as a prioress but as a member of the community.
When in community we prepare for election of prioress, we often speak of the “grace of office”. A smooth transition into, out of various roles is reliant on the grace John the Baptist showed in commending his disciples to focus on Jesus and His way. He prepared his friends, his disciples to move on from his teaching and instead to devote themselves to Jesus. This is so typical of John. It was the whole purpose of his life. Even before he was born, God had determined that John’s life would be spent pointing people towards Jesus. An angel told his dad before he was born: This child will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go before the Lord, in spirit and power to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
So look at John! In your mind’s eye, follow his finger to whom is pointing! Hear what he’s saying! In the story he’s standing with two of his friends when Jesus walks by. He seizes the opportune moment. He says to his friends, “Look, there goes the Lamb of God. Here’s your chance. What are you waiting for? Go! Follow him! He’s the one you’ve really been looking for.
All they know is what John has told them about Jesus – they don’t really yet know Jesus. They don’t know where he is going or if he wants them to follow. But follow they do – at a distance. That’s what’s so noteworthy about what happens that day. As these two men follow him at a distance, Jesus turns around. He initiates the exchange. He confronts them. “What are you looking for? What are you after? I see you following me, what are you hoping to find? What do you think I can do for you?”
So what if, right now, Jesus stopped in his tracks, faced you, and asked point blank, “What are you looking for? I see you’ve been following me. I know you’ve been checking me out. Well, what do you want? What do you think I can do for you? What do you want me to give you? Where do you think I am leading you? Do you think I have all the answers? Can I fix your life? Or are you just curious?
Will your answer be the same as John’s followers: “Teacher, where are you staying?” You know what Jesus answers, “Come and see.” This is so typical Jesus – always an invitation is extended, a gracious and wide open invitation. And, what’s more, the invitation always comes with a promise. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. Ask and you will receive. Come to me if you are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest. You who are thirsty come to me and drink. Come to the feast for I have prepared a place for you at the table. Always Jesus invites us: come and see!
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress