Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
I like Nicodemus. I relate to Nicodemus. In him, I see so many people I have known. In him, I see myself at times. In him, I see large numbers of well-educated Christians – people who are spiritually open and curious, while also very rational. Nicodemus represents all those wonderful souls who strive to find the way to turn their spiritual curiosity and honest questioning into a living faith. He is the perfect example of the religious seeker who is trapped by his own intellect. His spiritual life is not ‘faith seeking understanding’ as St. Anselm put it, rather, it is ‘understanding seeking faith.’
This lesson today is a reminder to all of us to ask ourselves – what kind of faith do I have? Am I more curious than committed? Do I keep Christ compartmentalized from most of my life the way Nicodemus did, coming to see Jesus only after dark? Is my faith more of an idea or is it deep and abiding? Do I prefer to follow Jesus from afar or am I willing to invite the Spirit to transform me? I think Nicodemus and many of us have what Henri Nouwen called the filled yet unfulfilled life. We realize that even with the abundance of all that we possess we are really empty in our fullness. Nicodemus had just about everything life could offer but he still had this gnawing hole deep in his soul. Like Nicodemus, many of us live lives of abundance, but often we realize there is still something missing. The truth is, deep and abiding faith means inviting Jesus Christ into your life. It means falling on your knees and asking Christ to draw closer to you than you are to yourself. It isn’t only Nicodemus; all of us need to be born of water and Spirit. Because it is only by giving up our lives that we can actually get them back again.
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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