Posted On December 14, 2009

John the Baptist: The Friend of the Bridegroom

Marriage is an image dear to Sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament, God speaks of the covenant he made with the people of Israel as a union between husband and wife (cf. Hos 1:1 ss.). In the New Testament, the figure of the wedding appears in several scenes: Jesus performs his first public miracle in front of his disciples during the marriage at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1 ff.), and he doesn’t hesitate to call himself the bridegroom when he replies to John’s disciples about fasting (“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” – Mk 2:19). Also Paul, in his preaching, compares the relationship between Christ and the Church to the one between husband and wife (cf. Eph 5:22). In the United States, during the wedding feast, it is tradition that the best man pronounces the toast, i.e. a speech regarding his friend, so that everyone invited could know the groom better. John the Baptist puts himself in this perspective when he says: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. 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; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:28-30).

It didn’t happen by chance that John the Baptist appoints himself as the friend of the bridegroom. He is that friend who knows the groom for a long time, he is the voice who shouts, who announces not something about Jesus but Jesus himself as the Messiah. They are bound together since their conceptions: when Zechariah enters into the temple to burn incense, the angel of the Lord announces to him that his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son; this same angel Gabriel is sent to Mary to announce to her that she will conceive in her womb and bear the Son of the Most High. When still in their mothers’ wombs, during the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, they meet each other. John “grew and became strong in spirit till the day of his manifestation to Israel”(Lk 1:80) and Jesus, after his finding in the temple among the teachers, was obedient to his parents and “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52).

John is the friend of the bridegroom; his mission is to make the Messiah known to all the wedding guests, to all of Israel. The humility he shows in doing it is very inspiring: he declares himself unworthy to carry Jesus’ sandals; he recognizes he baptizes only with water and not with the Holy Spirit and fire (cf. Mt 3:11); he admits he needs to be baptized by Jesus and not the other way around (cf. Mt 3:14). John’s respect and joy toward his friend are synthesized by the words “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30) and are also testified by the fact that Jesus’ first disciples, Peter and his brother Andrew, were John’s disciples who left him to follow the Lamb of God (cf. Jn 1:35-42).
What does this strong bound between John the Baptist and Jesus tell me today? John lived most of his life without close contact with Jesus – he wasn’t one of his disciples – but he can trace in many of his past experiences an invisible thread to Jesus. This invisible thread can bind you not only with Jesus, but also with all the people next to you, relatives and friends, if you can see in them some good which reminds you of Jesus, if you can love them in spite of their defects that may bother you. In this way, you will create a giant spiderweb where many others will be “snared” because of the beauty of your relationships. And so the net will become bigger and bigger.

“He loves his friend truly who loves God in his friend”, said St. Augustine. Friendship changes if God is not only the maker but also the rock we build it upon. So…what can you start with, to whom can you show the importance of having you as a good friend at his or her side? Whom can you be present to? Who can you support in the mission he or she is pursuing? Live in the company of your friends and dear ones, listen to them, take real interest in them, rejoice with them…you’ll discover that your relationship will be more authentic and true day after day! You will experience then that where two or three are united, Jesus is present among them.

Fr. Alessandro.

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