Monday, March 12, 2018

From Above

"Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." The word Jesus uses here means both “from above” and “again”. To stay with Jesus in this conversation, it is necessary to hold on to both meanings. Nicodemus is faced with a choice. He can say to himself, what does Jesus mean by the kingdom of God, and ask him about it.  Or, faced with a word of two meanings, he could ask Jesus which sense he’s got in mind: “from above”, “again”, both, what’s he getting at exactly. In coming to speak to Jesus, Nicodemus has begun to move from darkness to light, to an encounter with the light which has come into the world. To ask these questions though would mean to leave the realm of intellectual dispute, it would require a surrender on his part, a movement into the unknown world of Jesus, which is a movement into the realm of the mystery of God, a movement into the realm of not-understanding, and of not being able to arrive at understanding unless it is given him gratuitously “from above”. Nicodemus’ choice is to ignore the question of the kingdom of God altogether, eliminate the sense of the word as “from above” and to interpret it as “again”: "How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?" Falling back into the security of his world of familiar concepts and patterns of thought, he stalls the movement toward Jesus.

Jesus tries again, developing what he has already said. "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. He moves now from “seeing” the kingdom of God to “entering” it, by means of water and Spirit. The new thing that Jesus brings is the ability to see and enter into the kingdom of God by being born again of water as a result of a gift from above of the Spirit. He then encourages Nicodemus to let go of being content with what he can see and control and to be open to this new way of understanding.  “What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.”

If Nicodemus is to move forward as Jesus counsels him, he will have to begin with love. Jesus knows Nicodemus because he loves him. We can only know a person when we love them. Through love, Nicodemus will discover the capacity to surrender and let go of the familiar. Through love, he will find the seed of insight,  that will give birth to hope, which will prepare him for the leap of faith into the realm of God, where he will find again a whole new love and hope. All of this will be wholly the grace of God, the God who gives himself entirely, and is love and nothing but faithful, ever-constant tender love through and through.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.