I Am Not: A Lesson from St. Patrick
“Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’” (1:19-20)
Throughout the gospel of John you will see Jesus clearly saying "I am the light of the world…the resurrection and life…the bread of life…the vine…the way, truth and life…the good shepherd"…and simply “I am”. But here we see John the Baptizer saying, “I am not”. I actually think the gospel writer intentionally used the “I am” construction here to juxtapose John the Baptizer’s statement in contrast to Jesus’s declaration as the “I Am” (8:58). Though many thought John could have been the promised Messiah who would save Israel from the Romans, he clearly says that he is not the Messiah, nor the prophet Elijah, nor the great “end-time prophet” (1:21). John says there is someone who is coming that he’s not even worthy to do the disciple’s work of untying the thong of his master’s sandal (1:27).
Even though John is greatly revered by the crowds, he clearly humbles himself and points to a greater one to come: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
John knows he is special but he never allows power and prestige to become his identity. Instead, humility marks his life as a servant of the Lord.
Though much of St. Patrick’s life may have some aspect of a legendary quality, his manuscript, The Confession of Saint Patrick, gives us a glimpse into the man’s life and character. One aspect becomes clear from the beginning of this book: his humility. He opens with, “I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many…”. Even though Patrick could take credit for bringing thousands of former pagans into the Christian family, he does not embrace a “savior” mentality but instead knows that only the true Savior, our Lord Jesus, can bring powerful transformation that lasts.
Knowing that you aren’t the Messiah is a good thing! You can’t save yourself. You can’t find fulfillment and purpose without submitting to the Logos/Word (John 1:1), the Light (John 8:12), Jesus Christ. Knowing that you aren’t the messiah of your company, your ministry, your family or your community is a good thing! John the Baptizer and St. Patrick lived what all followers of Jesus should aspire to be: humble servants who know that the only joy in life is found by submitting to Jesus, our humble Lord.
Something to Think About
Do you, like John, find your identity as God’s humble servant?
What are the temptations in your life to try to be the “savior”?
Jesus, may I follow the lead of John who knew who he was and whom he wasn’t. Forgive me for thinking I can be the savior of my own life and the lives of others. I confess my need to choose humility and repent of any inclinations to hold onto power, prestige or ego. Remind of me of great leaders like St. Patrick who chose humility as a constant leadership trait. Amen.