Today’s Gospel is very much a word painting of two extraordinary people. One is John the Baptist, who receives a great deal of attention and doesn’t like it. The other is Andrew who is put on everyone’s back burner, and really couldn’t care less.
John is most definitely the star of the show. He is surrounded by huge crowds. He is admired and acclaimed by everyone. People travel hundreds of miles on foot to hear him speak. Everybody wants a piece of him. And yet John is about to throw all that adulation overboard; because standing before him is One whom he cannot ignore.
At this point, Jesus of Nazareth is a complete unknown quantity as far as John’s admirers are concerned. And it is John who puts the spotlight on Our Lord. The only loser will be himself. Perhaps, then, we can better understand why John is the only person of whom Our Lord says He stands in awe.
On the previous day John was surrounded by a mob of fans and admirers. He points to Our Lord and declares him to be the Messiah – ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God’. John is eager to step back into the desert. His job as the Lord’s forerunner is coming to an end. Life in the fast lane is clearly not to his taste.
In the Gospel, John stands with two of his biggest fans. One is Andrew, the other isn’t identified. Most scholars assume it was John the Evangelist, who wrote this account. Perhaps modesty stopped him from mentioning his own name? Once again, John points to Jesus and identifies Him as the Messiah. And, as John foresaw and perhaps even hoped, his two right hand men leave him and follow Christ. They were unknowingly following a plan that had been programmed from Day One.
There could not have been an ounce of envy in John the Baptist. He had his time in the limelight. And willingly he surrenders to his successor. Now, if we happen to have a little problem with pride, and if we’re honest, most of us secretly do, then John the Baptist is our cure; for he teaches us that ‘no one has ever choked to death from swallowing his own pride.’
Our Lord invites Andrew and his friend to spend some time with him. And they must have had an amazing evening together, because first thing the next morning Andrew is most anxious to introduce his brother Simon to their extraordinary new friend. Andrew makes the proper introductions and then he willingly surrenders front stage to his brother.
From this point on, Andrew, more or less, loses his identity. The gospels will mention him, not often by name, but usually as ‘the brother of Peter’. It will be Andrew’s fate to live in his brother’s shadow. And yet there is no hint of sibling rivalry between them. While Peter is referred to a hundred times in the gospels, Andrew is referred to seldom.
Even though Andrew was a charter member of the College of Apostles, it was his fate never to become a member of Our Lord’s inner circle. And yet, there is no evidence that this ever upset him. He was more than happy to play a supporting role.
I suppose many of us, if we were in Andrew’s shoes would have sounded off and complained. It’s not easy being top of the pile and then having to take a lower place. But Andrew was willing to accept his place in the scheme of things. He shows us that we can’t all enjoy the limelight and have our name splashed on billboards and book covers. It’s the same in a religious community, or in any human organisation. We each have our unique place in the great machine of life, which only works properly and efficiently when each of us does our job; where even the tiniest cog or screw is important and, without which, the whole would suffer. Andrew considered himself a winner just to be numbered among Christ’s company. And so should we. Most of us have been fortunate in life, but never more fortunate than to be counted among one of Our Lord’s followers.
It’s part of the human condition that some people go out of their way to be noticed. It’s as true in the Church just as much as it is in the wider world. I’m not in to social media, but I do have a little used account on Facebook, and whenever I take a glance at what my friends are up to the one thing that pushes my button are all the self-seeking comments, especially from fellow priests and religious. It’s all about me, me, me! Look at me! Look at what I’ve done! They announce to the whole world that ‘it’s my birthday’ or ‘it’s my anniversary’ – no doubt intimating that the rest of us should send them a gift or give them a pat on the back! Am I just an old fogey or is that odd behaviour? Not that I’m condemning anyone, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the lesson we’re being taught today.
John the Baptist and the Apostle Andrew teach us that when we tell others what Jesus can do for them, we should first of all tell them what Jesus has done for us.
Saint John and Saint Andrew, pray for us.