Tag Archives: born again

Deeper Meanings

Reading
John 3.1–17

I believe in order to understand—St. Augustine

I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand—St. Anselm of Canterbury

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Today, I want to begin by talking about how to read John’s Gospel. Reading the scriptures more intentionally is part of a good self-discipline for Lent, so I hope this may be of help. Here’s the point I want to make:

There are double meanings all the way through John. You’ll find a superficial meaning and a deeper meaning. And the deeper meaning is the one John wants us to ‘get’. But the people around Jesus often see the superficial meaning first.

Today the Lectionary gives us the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus ‘by night’.

Nicodemus was an educated man, but also an educated clot. You see educated clots all over the place. I am one: a degree in medicine, a PhD in theology, can’t fix a tap.

Today, I’d like to ‘unpack’ a few things about this well-known story.

Firstly, and most importantly: Nicodemus just doesn’t get it. He’d be great at Advanced Moses Studies, but he can’t ‘get’ this teacher from—of all places—Nazareth. When Jesus says

I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.

Nicodemus responds,

How can a grown man be born again? He certainly cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time!

All Nicodemus can get is that superficial meaning. You can just see Jesus doing a face-palm.

You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don’t know this?

Jesus is of course speaking of a deeper meaning—a new birth, a birth he describes as a birth of water and the Spirit.

It’s not about tapping dear old mum on the shoulder, sitting her down with a cup of strong sweet tea and explaining an entirely novel idea to her.

Let me say it again: all the way through the Gospel of John this happens. People don’t get what Jesus says. They think he’s talking about earthly realities, but in fact he is speaking of spiritual truths.

The very deepest meanings of John reveal to us the heavenly Father, and they reveal the Father through the words and works of the Son.

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Being born of the Spirit (Lent 2, Year A, 16 March 2014)

Reading
John 3.1–17

 

Today, I’m telling the story of Nicodemus from the point of view of someone who may just have been there: his servant. Let’s call him ‘Jethro’…

Hello! Yes, I’m Jethro, and once I was Nicodemus’ servant. You’ve heard of Nicodemus, right? I was with him when he first went to see that rabble-rousing rabbi from Galilee, that Jesus of Nazareth.

You’ve read about that just today? Well fancy that! I bet I wasn’t mentioned? Of course I wasn’t, I told you I’m just a servant. But I was there. We servants are always around in the shadows, waiting to be called, listening for a snap of the fingers, just pretending we’re not there and not hearing everything. One evening, with no warning, my master told me we were off to see Jesus. You don’t think a wealthy man like Nicodemus would walk through the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem alone at night, do you? I was there in case thieves tried something. I was ready for them. I was a young man then, and well able to look after myself. That was my job. We didn’t chat on the way there, I was too busy keeping my eyes peeled for trouble. Anyway, Nicodemus didn’t chat with me at that time. As I said, I was the servant in this relationship.

That night, Nicodemus went in to the place Jesus was staying and I followed him. There were some candles lit inside, so Nicodemus could see where to go. I stayed near the door.

I wondered why Nicodemus wanted to see Jesus. I mean, he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin! He had a reputation and a position to protect! And Jesus wasn’t exactly flavour of the month when it came to most of the Sanhedrin.

There were others on the Council who would like to see Nicodemus brought down. Seeing Jesus could have been enough to bring suspicion upon him. That’s why he went at night and in secret.

I didn’t know why he wanted to see Jesus. It wasn’t my place to know.

Jesus smiled at me when I came in. At me! I thought, He has no class at all! Imagine smiling at a servant! Jesus went right down in my estimation.

Of course, I heard what was said.  Continue reading

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Second Sunday in Lent (Year A, 20 March 2011)

Today, we return to our series on the Beatitudes as we look at the story of Nicodemus.


Blessed are those who hunger for justice

Readings
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
John 3.1-17

Lament

Many of the psalms are psalms of lament. People cry out to God in their distress, and God hears them.
Let us join in a prayer of lament:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:
they will be filled.

People suffer, struggle, there seems no end in sight:
where are you, Lord?

Earthquakes and tsunamis rage, radiation levels rise:
where are you, Lord?

Help us find you
in the faces and lives
of the helpless and destitute.

Help us find you
and be ready to welcome you,
whatever your disguise.

And give us compassion
that we might open our hearts to those in need;
and in serving them, be served;
in loving them, find love;
and in knowing them, know you. Amen.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice:
they will be filled.

The Proclamation of the Word

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They will be filled.

Or, we could say:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They will be filled.

It’s the same thing. If you are righteous, you are just in your dealings with others. If you are righteous, you want justice for others. So I like the way the Revised English Bible translates this saying:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied.

When you hunger and thirst, you’re thinking about one thing. How to satisfy that need. You’ll eat just about anything; you’ll not care that the water you’ve been given is room temperature, or that the bread is a bit dry. You’ll think of little else until that need is satisfied. I’d suggest it’s the same with hungering and thirsting to see right prevail.

Today, we heard the story of Nicodemus. Was Nicodemus a seeker of righteousness? Did he ‘hunger and thirst’ for the righteousness Jesus talked about? Remember, he said: ‘unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’? I doubt that Nicodemus hungered or thirsted.

He came to Jesus by night; perhaps he was putting himself at risk visiting Jesus. He was after all a member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin; he had a position to protect. So he came in secret. For a conversation.

I’ve enjoyed thinking of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus as a game of tennis.

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