Tuesday, March 7
Jesus answered [Nicodemus],
“Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a person is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can anyone be born after growing old?
Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
There’s a funny kind of tension running through the third chapter of John as Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, comes to speak with Jesus. Jesus wasn’t on great terms with the Pharisees, as you may know, so the conversation is a bit stilted and blunt. (Jesus even insults Nicodemus at one point.)
Nicodemus begins with what seems to be a polite remark, the sort of easy praise you might give someone you’re visiting at the beginning of a conversation, trying to get off on the right foot: “Jesus, we know you’re a great Rabbi because of all your miracles and signs.” Oooh, wrong thing to say and actually pretty sarcastic, and Jesus knows it. It’s exactly those miracles and signs that the Pharisees do not believe. One can almost imagine Jesus narrowing his eyes in response as he drops on Nicodemus entirely out of context (really, verse three is a total non sequitur) a huge and profound teaching that one may well argue is central to the whole Christian experience of salvation: Unless you can be re-born, you’re not going to be able to understand what the kingdom of God is even all about. You won’t believe my miracles and signs, Jesus may be thinking, so try this one on for size.
Jesus gets the reaction he wanted. Nicodemus is a bit stunned, rocked back on his heels. “You mean I have to climb back into my mother’s womb and be born a second time? What’s that all about?” No, it’s a metaphor, Jesus might have replied. Try to stay with me, Nicodemus.
Jesus never explains the metaphor, so take some time today to consider it. What do you think it means to be “born anew”? What has to die?
I think it’s the self, our ego, that has to die. Our need to impose our will on the world. Our drive to always win, to place our needs over the needs of other people and of the entire world. An entire host of preconceptions—hard and fixed ways of thinking—obscure our vision, preventing us from seeing the kingdom of heaven: the glory that is around us all the time.
Lord, help us every day to die to our selfish desires and to be born anew. Amen.