There are probably worst things in the world, but that list would have to include being named with ”Junior” after your name.
You don’t believe me? Just think of poor Frank Sinatra,… Jr. I can rest my case. This poor guy has to carry his father’s handle throughout his life. Imagine the conversations upon meeting poor Frank, Jr. How long would it take before the conversation sways to, “So, what was it like being raised by a saloon singer?” “Was he home much?” “Did he play ball with you?” Frank, Jr.’s responses would need to be courteous because he’s representing not himself but his father.
Does he ever represent himself? No one will ever say to Frank, Jr., “What are you up to these days?” To be forced to walk in the shadow of someone is truly daunting. How can you not think at the end of the day, “Why doesn’t anyone ask me anything about me?” And so your life is lived.
I heard Frank Jr. sing in a concert once. We went to his show because, well, he’s the son of… He wasn’t very good, but it’s the closest we got to, well, you know who. A couple of years ago, television honored Frank’s 100th birthday, if Frank wasn’t dead. Did “Jr.” sing? Nope. Was “Jr.” even there? Who knows. Tony Bennett, who should be dead, was there. And he sang!
Who’s the shadow to Johnny Carson? (Ed McMahon) Who’s Jack Benny’s shadow? (Don Wilson) Here are two that you may not know, who’s Merv Griffin’s shadow? (Arthur Treacher) Who’s the shadow to Joey Bishop? (a young Regis Philbin)
I guess you know where I’m leading with this. John the Baptist was Jesus’ warm-up act. He was not the center of attention as much as he may have wanted the attention – with his weird outfit and still more bizarre diet. John had an act, but it was not a hard act to follow. We’re stunned by his performance, but that’s not why we came to the show. We want the main event. Jesus came along and had a stand-up that is still revered today. He had the lines, he had the stories, he had, what we’d say, a miraculous touch.
Parents must know what it feels like to slowly become a shadow to their children.
If God named Jesus “God, Jr.” to have him only mimic his Father then Jesus would be a puppet, and we’d all be God’s puppets and completely fooled. Jesus had to uncover his own, unique personhood, or else this whole religion thing would have collapsed. Jesus needed to complete the same life task that is given to us all.
There are two defining moments in the life of Jesus that made him his own person and hence our Savior. One at the beginning of his ministry and the other at the end. (Interesting?) The “Agony in the Garden” toward his Father and the “Wedding at Cana” toward his Mom. (Two parents, get it?) The “Wedding” and its miracle-wine-story shows us that he wants to be identified as himself and at the same time obedient to his mother. He does both, which is quite a trick in itself; we’ve all tried it at some point in our lives with our parents, but it rarely worked for us. The “Garden” story was Jesus’ most significant defining moment when he realizes that he has choices, a real sign of an adult. Jesus chooses. Jesus breaks away from God’s request, if possible, that the cup of death is passed to someone else. But good for him, and for us Jesus chooses to be his own person and, in doing so, follows his Father. It was a dramatic breaking away from God and his union with God, all at the same time. Jesus now becomes the “Christ” and never to be a “Jr.”
We shine because God’s light shines on us. We’re not the main act when it comes to our Creator, but we are His main actors in our parenting, friendships, and relationships when done in the shadow of our Creator.
When we think, or better yet, pretend that we’re the main attraction, then there’s trouble. That’s the first sin, the sin of idolatry – centuries old and still alive and active this very day. When there is no shadow, then the light dimly burns only upon ourselves.
Our authentic identity only increases with our reliance on God. “Lord, I can’t do this alone,” we say to ourselves, “but I know whose I am and I know that I am greater with You directing and guiding me.”
John is not a junior. His last name says his occupation. Baptist. (Does that make me “Joe the Priest?”) John paves the way, pours the concrete, smooths it over carefully, and welcomes the one whom he knew he was not, whose Allen Edmunds shoes he can’t afford to wear. But before his headless exit, he commissions the top billing star by baptizing him. The lesser baptizes, the greater. The greater cannot do what “great” means without the lessor’s anointing. Go figure. John freely sends Jesus to be who he is and do what he needs to do, without the “junior” stuff. Can we do any less with those we love, work with, or those we simply encounter? Be less for them to be more in the eyes of God.
Here’s one more, I can’t resist. She’s the shadow to Fred Astaire and did it all entirely backward. (Ginger Rogers)
John becomes the holy shadow because he prepared and became the “Baptizer.” What a better handle for someone than being the one who baptizes into a new life the One who is to show us all how to live, savor, and handle all of life’s mysteries and excitements.
What a guy John is – to know his place and then to place another in his place – gracefully, humbly, willingly and freely. We all may want the microphone for ourselves, but a worthy, healthy Christian sits on the couch.
David Gawlik 414.531.0503 firstname.lastname@example.org