Dear brothers and sisters, happy Sunday!
The Gospel of today’s liturgy (cf. Jn 1:29-34) relates the testimony of John the Baptist on Jesus, after having baptized him in the river Jordan. He says: “After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me” (vv. 29-30).
This declaration, this witness, reveals John’s spirit of service. He was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, and had done so without sparing himself. Humanly speaking, one would think that he would be given a “prize”, a prominent place in Jesus’ public life. But no. John, having accomplished his mission, knows how to step aside, he withdraws from the scene to make way for Jesus. He has seen the Spirit descend upon him (cf. vv. 33-34), he has indicated him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and now he in turn humbly listens. He goes from prophet to disciple. He preached to the people, gathered disciples and trained them for a long time. Yet he does not bind anyone to himself. And this is difficult, but it is the sign of the true educator: not binding people to himself. John does this: he sets his disciples in Jesus’ footsteps. He is not interested in having a following for himself, in gaining prestige and success, but he bears witness and then takes a step back, so that many would have the joy of meeting Jesus. We can say: he opens the door, then he leaves.
With this spirit of service, with his capacity to give way to Jesus, John the Baptist teaches us an important thing: freedom from attachments. Yes, because it is easy to become attached to roles and positions, to the need to be esteemed, recognized and rewarded. And this, although natural, is not a good thing, because service involves gratuitousness, taking care of others without benefit for oneself, without ulterior motives, without expecting something in return. It is good for us, too, to cultivate, like John, the virtue of setting ourselves aside at the right moment, bearing witness that the point of reference of life is Jesus. To step aside, to learn to take one’s leave: I have completed this mission, I have had this meeting, I will step aside and leave room to the Lord. To learn to step aside, not to take something for ourselves in recompense.
Let us think of how important this is for a priest, who is required to preach and celebrate, not out of self-importance or interest, but to accompany others to Jesus. Think of how important this is for parents, to raise their children with many sacrifices, but then they have to leave them free to take their own path in work, in marriage, in life. It is good and right that parents continue to assure their presence, saying to their children, “We will not leave you by yourselves”, but with discretion, without intrusiveness. The freedom to grow. And the same applies to other spheres, such as friendships, life as a couple, community life. Freeing oneself from attachments to one’s own ego and knowing how to step aside come at a cost, but are very important: this is the decisive step in order to grow in the spirit of service, without looking for something in return.
Brothers, sisters, let is try to ask ourselves: are we capable of making space for others? Of listening to them, of leaving them free, of not binding them to ourselves, demanding recognition? And also, of letting them speak, at times. Do not say, “But you know nothing!”. Let them speak, make space for others. Do we attract others to Jesus, or to ourselves? And furthermore, following the example of John: do we know how to rejoice in the fact that people take their own path and follow their calling, even if this entails some detachment from us? Do we rejoice in their achievements, with sincerity and without envy? This is letting others grow.
May Mary, the servant of the Lord, help us to be free from attachments, to make way for the Lord and to give space to others.