"He must increase, but I must decrease."
Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John contains probably the most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."); but I've chosen to focus, in this post, not on these words from the mouth of Jesus, but rather on those that John the Baptist utters in reference to Jesus: "He must increase, but I must decrease." These words, like those of Mary in John 2:5, are a challenge to all Christians.
The Navarre commentators note, "The Baptist knew his mission was one of preparing the way of the Lord; he was to fade into the background once the Messiah arrived, which he did faithfully and humbly. In the same way, a Christian, when engaged in apostolate, should try to keep out of the limelight and allow Christ to seek men out; he should always be emptying himself, to allow Christ [to] fill his life."
Like John the Baptist, we must be humble enough to know our true place. John was a big deal before Jesus began His public ministry -- people came from all over to listen to him, learn from him, and be baptized by him. When Jesus comes along, some of John's disciples seem irritated that "all are going to him" (3:26) now to be baptized, and they aren't getting all the attention anymore. The Baptist, however, responds to his disciples by saying, "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" (3:29). Far from lamenting his own sudden loss of esteem, John is joyful at the arrival of Christ, because his life and work has never been about himself, but about pointing beyond himself to "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29).
It is so tempting, even when we are trying to serve God, to focus too much on ourselves, on how we are doing or what others think of us. (I know this from far too much personal experience.) But if we truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then we must pray for the strength to fight against our self-centered mindsets and affirm with John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease."