Vs.22-24= After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where He spent some time with them baptizing. John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized, for John had not yet been imprisoned.
As will become apparent in later verses St. John the Baptist will, in this instance, catechize as if he were aware of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus.
There are two points to note, first in chapter 4:2 the Evangelist specifies that: Jesus Himself was not baptizing, just His disciples.
Second, while keeping in mind how much of the Holy Land, is mostly desert, arid land, where water is precious, St. John does not tell us if this abundance of water is a river or lake or from a well, yet in such an arid place any abundance of water would be notable.
When the Evangelist notes that St. John had ‘not yet been imprisoned’ it is as if he is preparing us for what is to come.
I have just finished reading a wonderful book A SONG FOR NAGASAKI, which is the life story of Takashi Nagai, a convert to the faith, doctor, husband, father, who suffered much being a citizen of Nagasaki when it was struck by the atomic bomb.
On page 105 the author notes: “Origen used to say that the Gospel according to St. John is the quintessence of the Bible and is understood only ‘if you lean on Jesus’ breast’, in other words, if you pray.”
I find, like Origen, meditation on the words of the Gospel leads to prayer and so it ends up taking a long time to move from verse to verse!
Vs. 25,26= Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about ceremonial washings. So 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 everyone is coming to Him.”
How often critical catecheses in St. John’s Gospel are proceeded by some controversy!
With the above St. John introduces the powerful, and humble, words of the Baptist:
Vs. 27,28= John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him.”
We have here incredible statements of faith and trust in Divine Providence.
It is very common for we human beings to presume what we have is as a direct result of our own labours, ingenuity, tenacity.
This simply is not true.
The origin of all we have comes from the creative, providential love of Divine Providence.
True, this laptop and its components come from human labour, but the origin of all the metals, for example, contained herein, is mineral resources, yes dug from the earth by human labour.
BUT no human being created the minerals, nor placed them in the earth to be found and exploited by human beings for use in this laptop.
In every Holy Mass, this same faith and trust in Divine Providence is expressed in the Offertory Prayers: Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. And: Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the wine we offer You: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.
Jesus urges us to trust Divine Providence, to understand what truly is of value as noted by St. Luke 12: 22ff; St. Matthew 6:25ff.
Then the Baptist asks his questioners to themselves become witnesses of the great reality of the Messiah.
Vs. 29,30= “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”
Two critical teachings flow from the Baptist’s reference to marriage: 1] while we all can rejoice during a wedding something more critical than what appears when we observe the bride and groom in their finery before the priest at the altar, namely, unlike the other sacraments, the minister of this sacrament is not the priest. He and those in attendance are witnesses to something very sacred indeed, as teaches the Catechism of the Church about the union of a baptized man and baptized woman: According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church…..In the epiclesis of this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of the love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever-available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity. [#’s 1623, 1624]
2] Christ Himself is the Bridegroom, the Church His Bride, and thus we as members of the Church share in this intimate communion of love: The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her. He has joined Her with Himself in an everlasting covenant, and never stops caring for Her as for His own body. [op.cit.#796]
There is a pointing to Jesus’ own expression of joy in St. John’s saying his joy has been made complete, when Jesus says in 16: vs. 20, 22, 23, 24= ….you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…..I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you….Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be complete.
No matter what we suffer, no matter the stress, no matter the turbulence of our emotions, the state of heart and soul of all the baptized is joy, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When St. John teaches about Christ that He must increase and of himself that I must decrease he is preparing everyone for the reality that with himself, as the last prophet of the Old Law/Testament, and the precursor, preparer of the way for Christ, history – both chronological history as we experience, and salvation history which is the whole point of the former, will forever more be noted as the time before Christ and the time since Christ.
Here too we can hear the later teaching of Jesus about greater and lesser: Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. [Mt. 18:3]; The greatest among you will be your servant. [Mt. 23:11].
Being true disciples, witnesses of Christ for others means in a real way we too should decrease so Christ increases within us.
As an aside noted by Byzantine liturgical scholars: the nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24th, when the sun has begun its decline towards the horizon, while the birth of Christ is celebrated December 25th, when the sun has begun to increase.
The Baptist continues his teaching, vs.31-36= The one who comes from above is above all. The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things. But the one who comes from heaven [is above all]. He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accepts His testimony. Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy. For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to Him. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.
Was St. John the Baptist shown the Most Holy Trinity?
Certainly, we know that Holy Spirit formed him and sent him on his mission as precursor of Christ.
What the Baptist gives us here is a clear teaching that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the expected One, sent by God, that is by the Father, and that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit.
This all, which is spoken here, flows from what the Baptist experienced and already witnessed to in John 1: 29-34.
All God’s self-revelation is fulfilled in Christ, who reveals to us that the name of God is Abba. [Hebrew which is translated in the formal sense of ‘father’, but the more accurate translation of this word, commonly spoken particularly in Israel is: Dad, Papa, Daddy].
This is the intimate relationship we have with the Father, that of beloved children, each of us is His Child.
Jesus is both our Redeemer and our brother.
Through Jesus as well we come to know the Holy Spirit and in baptism receive the Holy Spirit, becoming disciples of Christ, true children of the Father, thus enter communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity.
Indeed, when the Father sends His Word, Jesus Christ, He always sends His Breath, the Holy Spirit. [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #689].
Thus as St. Paul teaches: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him……In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. [Rm.8:14-17 & 26]