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
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.
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.