During the course of our lives we have lots of encounters with people. Most of these turn out to be of little significance, and are soon forgotten. You could meet some people every day, but never get close to them. Surface meets surface. You could talk to some people for hours, even years, without feeling that you had ever revealed your true self to them. You could live for years in the same community as people and never get to know them, or talk about the deeper things of life with them. Some contacts with others throw us back on ourselves poorer than when we left. This is one of the great sadnesses of life.
But other encounters turn out to be of great significance; they enrich our lives and sometimes change them utterly. You may have just one meeting with someone, and an immediate bond is formed. You are able to reveal yourself in a true and clear light. This is one of the most delightful and rewarding things in life.
When a friendship is born there is no tangible change in one’s life, just an awareness that one’s life is different, and that one’s capacity to love and care has miraculously been enlarged without any effort on one’s own part.
It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. According to Kahlil Gibran, ‘Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity, and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created in years or even generations.’
Many significant encounters appear to happen by accident. Some people will tell you that this was how they met their marriage partner: the circumstances of that first encounter are never forgotten. Once we come to love or hate someone, we remember almost every detail of that first encounter.
This helps us in understanding the importance of that first meeting between Jesus and three of the men who later became his apostles–Peter, Andrew and John. It’s clear that they had a wonderful encounter. Years later when John came to write his Gospel he could remember the exact time of day in which the encounter took place, it was about the tenth hour (four o’clock in the afternoon).
One meeting with Jesus, and they were captivated by him. He gave them as much time as they wanted. They knew they had met a remarkable person, and a rare friendship was born.
They felt totally at peace in his presence. Through their contact with him they began to discover themselves. Because of the kind of person he was, they got a vision of what they themselves might become.
There is a huge difference between power and influence. Those who wield power over us oppress us, trying to turn us into slaves or copies of themselves. Those who exercise influence on us do not try to convert us, or change us, or mold us. They offer us the space in which we can find ourselves and our own way. Jesus didn’t exercise power over his disciples. But he had a profound influence on them. That encounter changed forever the lives of Peter, Andrew and John.
We can’t encounter Jesus in the flesh. But we can encounter him spiritually in faith as a Friend, a Brother, and a Savior. Not to know Jesus is not to have discovered what Christianity is about. Christianity involves a close relationship with Jesus.
Jesus is forever passing by. He is always available to those who are sincerely looking for him. But he never forces himself on anyone. To those who are interested in knowing more, he says what he said to John and Andrew: ‘Come and see.’ Of course it is not a once-and-for-all encounter, but a growing relationship with him that we are talking about.