Adoration of The Child Jesus by St John the Baptist,
Painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553),
Oil on panel,
Painted circa 1535
© Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid
Jesus must grow greater, I must grow smaller
Jesus went with his disciples into the Judaean countryside and stayed with them there and baptised. At the same time John was baptising at Aenon near Salim, where there was plenty of water, and people were going there to be baptised. This was before John had been put in prison.
Now some of John’s disciples had opened a discussion with a Jew about purification, so they went to John and said, ‘Rabbi, the man who was with you on the far side of the Jordan, the man to whom you bore witness, is baptising now; and everyone is going to him.’
John replied: ‘A man can lay claim only to what is given him from heaven.
‘You yourselves can bear me out: I said: I myself am not the Christ; I am the one who has been sent in front of him. ‘The bride is only for the bridegroom; and yet the bridegroom’s friend, who stands there and listens, is glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This same joy I feel, and now it is complete.
He must grow greater, I must grow smaller.’
Reflection on the Painting
Today’s Gospel reading ends with the last words spoken by John the Baptist: ‘He must grow greater, I must grow smaller’. After this he is imprisoned and gets beheaded, his martyrdom. John knew that his role was nearly completed and that from now on he had to ‘decrease’ and that Jesus’ ministry which was starting had to ‘increase’. Yes this is the period where John and Jesus’ ministries were overlapping. John said those words, humbling himself and exalting Christ. The time had come for Jesus to burst into ministry. When reading our Gospel of today, we can also feel a sense of joy when John is saying those last words of him getting smaller and Jesus getting bigger.
Yes, when Jesus increases, joy increases! Ok, but in order for Christ to become greater and for us to become smaller, we must have an understanding about who Christ truly is. Many different names have been given to Jesus throughout Scripture. Probably the one that gets used the most to describe Jesus is: Lord. In the New Testament alone, ‘Lord’ is used 3,322 times. When we look at the definition of ‘Lord’ for example in the Oxford dictionary, it reads as: ‘a person who has authority, control, or power; a master, chief, or ruler’. Therefore, if we allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives, we are allowing Him to become greater, to be in charge. This can only be truly achieved in a very hands-on practical way when we forgive as we have been forgiven, when love as we have been loved and spend time with Our Good Lord in prayer.
Our painting is by Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of the most important German painters in the 16th century. Cranach was a personal friend of Martin Luther (1483–1546) and thus became the chief pictorial propagandist of the Protestant cause. Cranach is called Pictor celerrimus (‘swiftest of painters’) on his tombstone. His contemporary artists marvelled at the speed with which he worked. In our painting we see John the Baptist dressed in a camel hair gown, stroking a lamb, on his knees before the Child Jesus holding a cross emanating from a snake, symbolic for original sin. The snake is about to bite Christ’s left foot, which also stands on top of a human skeleton. This is very Lutheran propaganda: Martin Luther asserted that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception…
Share this Gospel Reading
Did you like this Gospel reading and art reflection?
Join in the discussion about this artwork & Gospel reading
Readings related to John 3:22-30
Join our community
In addition to receiving our Daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection, signing up for a free membership allows you to: