( A commentary on John 3: 1-8)
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 1-8)
If we are looking for the power of change in a person, Nicodemus is near the top of the list!
Jesus describes him as a chief teacher among the Jews. Nicodemus comes, though, because I suspect he has an inkling that whatever he and others may note in his plus column, he could be missing something big, something that so far has escaped him. Jesus pushes him out of the realm of the comfortable but he remains befuddled.
Nicodemus is also us, trying to figure Jesus out, desiring what Jesus seems to be offering, unsure how to fit it into anything he knows
Accepting the invitation to discipleship offered by Jesus means a new beginning, which is as dramatic and significant as the one that takes place at the birth of a baby.
The idea of being “born from above” is also significant because it reminds us that this new beginning is not something that we can achieve in our own strength, but that it is actually a gift given to us by a gracious god.
We believe in God, but when it comes to changing ourselves, we try to do it ourselves. We think that our strategy and efforts can break a habit of sin or make us more generous people. But that is seldom the case. What we need is not different plans or more willpower. What we need is a new relationship.
We enter into that new relationship when we entrust ourselves to God, when we admit our weakness and inability to change, and ask God to transform us. When we say Lord, “I have been so hurt by that person that I cannot bend to forgive. I need you to bend me, so that I can let go of this hate. Lord, I have put such high expectations on my spouse and my children, that they are harming my relationships. I need you to loosen my expectations, so I can love the people in my life as they are, rather than how I want them to be. Lord, I am so quick to judge others because of their race, sexual orientation, or political viewpoint, and that fills me with anger. Lord, I need you to quiet those prejudices, so that I can live in peace again.”
When we are helpless and hopeless, God promises to change us. God promises to write, in a new way, on our hearts. Now, then, is the time to open our hearts, and let God in, so that we can become the people we are called to be.
And what about Nicodemus? His story continues in the Gospel of John, and it’s clear that in the interim, some kind of transformation has begun in him. When angry crowds in the Jerusalem Temple demand that Jesus be arrested, Nicodemus is the lone man who stands up to defend him. When Jesus has been lifted up and executed upon a cross, Nicodemus is present when Jesus is taken down and is one of two men given permission to bury him. In the last piece of the story, Nicodemus “who had at first come to Jesus by night” (John 19:39) stands there in the daylight, not as a curious seeker of wisdom, but as a disciple risking his reputation and life to publicly identify himself with this Jesus, while more familiar disciples such as Peter have run and hidden from the authorities.
Wherever we end the story, Nicodemus still offers a glimpse at how acceptance of Jesus Christ can challenge us and can change us, not just in what we believe, but how we live.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus Christ, you offer us abundant new life and power to live as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. Renew in me the gift of faith to accept and obey your life-giving word and to cooperate with the transforming power of your Holy Spirit who changes us into your likeness. May your kingdom come and your will be done in my life today, tomorrow, and always.”
Once we open ourselves to God’s will and God’s way, we let ourselves be led to where God wishes. “The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes.” The breath of the Holy Spirit is the sole Guide for our lives. This is the message which is being given to Nicodemus. He must be ready to move in a different direction from that which has guided his life up to this. We, too, wherever we happen to be right now must ever be ready for God, through his Spirit, to call us in a new direction and to follow his lead.