I would imagine that John the Baptist was a very popular person. We are told that people came from all over to hear his preaching and his call to repentance. Many men and women accepted his invitation to be baptized and turn their lives around and live as God would have them live. As time went on certain men aligned themselves to John the Baptist. They became his disciples, his companions, his confidants. The same thing happened to Jesus when he began his own ministry.
But John knew what his own mission in life was. He was to point the way, prepare the way for the one who would come after him. As he said of himself, “I am not worthy to undo the thong of his sandals.” In today’s gospel we hear of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God. His close friends Andrew and John hear this and out of curiosity they follow Jesus. When Jesus asks them what they want they basically say, ‘we’d like to know more about you.’ So Jesus invites them to ‘come and see’ come and get to know me better. From that encounter with Jesus, an encounter that was encouraged by John the Baptist, Andrew brought Peter and Nathaniel to meet Jesus and so Jesus began to gather his own disciples, most of whom had been disciples of John the Baptist.
This short gospel tells us a lot about John the Baptist. He didn’t resent the fact that his closest friends changed their allegiance to Jesus. John was not a possessive or a controlling person. He encouraged his close friends to move on, to grow, to discover something, someone new. One of the Church Fathers says that in John’s pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God John was encouraging them to leave the lamp, John, and go to the sun, Jesus.
We all know people who are control freaks. We all know or relationships where one or other of those involved are clutchy, possessive. We all know of relationship that have floundered on the rocks of jealousy and mistrust. We all know parents who are convinced they know what is best for their sons and daughters, what university they should go to, what courses they should take, what careers they should follow, who should be their life partners. They really mean well but they stifle any sense of adventure, any dreams their children may have. Someone once said, ‘parents never really let us grow up.’ I have a friend who bought a boat and it took him months to tell his father because he knew he would be told he was wasting his money, that he didn’t need a boat. This fellow had teenage children of his own. Sound familiar?
John the Baptist is a great example of a ‘let go’ person. His advice to Andrew and John was ‘go and grow’. It’s not easy to let people we claim we love find their own way, live their own dreams, make their own mistakes. We all need the advice, guidance of others but we can never grow if our lives are controlled, even manipulated by others.
There is a saying, “parents have to give their children two things, roots and wings. Sometimes the wings can carry them far from the roots but they should always remember that roots are stronger than wings. Remember the words of that old song ‘please release me, let me to?’ It was a song about a different context but the plea was an honest one – release me, stop trying to control my life.
I think this is true of the church. The church must give us roots, the foundations of our faith. The church should give us wings, the freedom and ability to deepen our own personal relationship with Christ.
The message of today’s gospel is this: the true followers of John the Baptist were those who really listened to their master and listened to his encouragement to leave him and follow Jesus. Go and grow.
With this simple but powerful and demanding message of today’s gospel may we look to the health of all our relationship and be blessed with the strength we need to say to those we love – go and grow.