Ralph Waldo Emerson once suggested that the greatest invention of humanity is friendship. But Emerson is mistaken. Friendship isn’t man’s invention. It is God’s. And a man is truly rich indeed when he has friends! That makes the current pandemic of loneliness all the more terrible and soul-crushing for this generation. We weren’t meant for loneliness.
No matter how hard we try to hide it, our hunger for intimacy, relationships, and communion always “spills” out of our hearts. That’s why we hunger for friends and companions. That’s why, as rare a true love may be, true friendship is rarer still. And yet, we long for it even when our minds can’t articulate the need.
It’s because we were made in the image of Him Who is Communion Himself. God made us in His image to become His companions in His likeness. And it is this fundamental and primary drive within us toward that amazing reality that creates this hunger for companionship and friends. You were meant to be in community and surrounded by people who love you more than they love themselves, and you were meant to be a person who loves his friends more than he loves himself. This is the very definition of what faith is meant to create among us.
And it’s why God, in His timeless patience and love, sent the Forerunner ahead of Christ to prepare the Way for the Messiah to be revealed.
Look at our lesson today in John 1:29-34:
At that time, John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Yesterday we stood with St. John as the amazing happened. God in the flesh came to John at the Jordan to be baptized. John felt that the roles should be reversed and that Christ should baptize John instead of the other way around. But Jesus came to do a specific work and John understood his mission and obeyed!
John, despite his doubts and his concerns later as he faced death, never forgot just why he was part of this unfolding mystery of love in God coming to save the universe. He knew he was meant to prepare the Way for the Lord to speak His message of true liberty and salvation to the nation of Israel and then to the whole world. He understood his role and he never wavered, even when he had questions. His intimacy with God, his time of preparation in the wilderness through prayer and fasting, had all produced this spiritual fruit of obedience and trust, Of course, that’s why the spiritual disciplines are so important. They produce the fruit of intimacy!
Today, what barriers still stand in your way of experiencing true friendship, true communion? What stumbles or fears keep you in the tormented state of desiring to be with true friends and yet always afraid of being hurt or wounded? The path out of this perpetual slavery of soul comes in the risky notion of obedience out of love. The dangerous risk of being vulnerable to the mistakes and fears of others all the while knowing and seeing your own mistakes and fears. The path to finding true friends, true communion, true intimacy with God and others will be in a willingness to “see” the Lord coming to you as He did John and the Lord asking for your free cooperation in perpetuating this freedom of knowing Him and then knowing others as true friends indeed. Take the chance. Say “yes” to God today, and keep saying “yes”, and watch as you aren’t guaranteed no pain, but you are guaranteed a growing awareness of His intimate Presence in your life. It’s the path to being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. The Jordan accepted Your presence in the flesh and reversed its course in fear. John, fulfilling the spiritual ministry, fell back in awe. The ranks of Angels, seeing You in the flesh, baptized in the river, were amazed, and all who were in darkness were filled with light, praising You who appeared and enlightened all.