- Nicodemus who is sneaking around in the dark trying to get to Jesus without anyone else seeing him.
- Nicodemus who is apparently so curious he can do no other.
- Nicodemus, who is evidently not so young himself, whose knees might just be creaking, too.
- Nicodemus who responds with wonder or skepticism, “How can anyone be born again when he has grown old?” when Jesus says, “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”
- Indeed, is it any wonder that Nicodemus wonders?
To be sure, Nicodemus’s question was entirely logical. There is a normal progression to things. In fact, contrary to all appearances, I am told we begin to age as soon as we first breathe on our own. We know from hard experience that knees and other body parts wear out and there comes a time when there is no turning back. We know that where I met a 96-year-old tending his family’s graves is where we all one day will be. Indeed, what Jesus speaks of here simply does not fit with much of what you and I have learned from hard earned experience. The hope he offers runs contrary to most everything else the world has taught us to be so.
And perhaps it is so that it is impossible to comprehend the promise Jesus utters now. Impossible unless we have already begun to come to terms with the certain truth that what Jesus speaks of now is not our own doing, but God’s.
For being born again, whether it be that first physical birth we all experience but cannot remember, or the small and large re-births that happen along the way in minds and hearts and spirits, this ‘being born’ is not something we do, but is something that must be done to us and for us. It is always, ever, the work of God, the gift of God.
For think with me of times when we have known the truth of this:
- Indeed, don’t we know something of this in the easing of pain after a long suffered grief? To be sure, we can do all we can to heal, but in the end we know it is a gift far beyond our own doing.
- And again, don’t we know something of this in the wonder of physical wounds healed? Oh, we can follow doctor’s orders, but we know the healing which often seems to come ‘naturally,’ has nothing to do with anything we could do.
- And oh, I expect I knew something of this that Wednesday afternoon in a cemetery some years back when I was lifted out of my own private thoughts to see the plight of another. And perhaps others experienced something of this as well as they were invited to tend to the simple needs of a stranger, reminding them that we are all bound up with one another in ways both simple and profound. It seemed to me that some sense of hopefulness was born again between us in that moment as simple kindness was shared and it seemed all beyond our own doing, our being together for that purpose in that single moment in time.
And this gift, this being born from above? It is so much more than a hand up to stand on legs weakened by time and age. It is the gift of new life and renewed hope and fresh beginnings. Not only in the next life, but in this one right now today.
Births and rebirths? We can only receive them, celebrate them and seek to lead lives worthy of them.
And oh, we cannot know for sure, but I like to believe that Nicodemus eventually did just that as evidenced by his spending a small fortune on the spices in which Jesus would be wrapped for burial within a linen cloth. (John 19:38-42) Certainly Nicodemus eventually did just that.
- What do you make of Nicodemus’s question? What questions might you have asked if you had been present for that conversation with Jesus that night?
- Who are the curious ones, like Nicodemus, who risk to come to hear about Jesus where you live and serve? What words are needed to help make sense of these gifts of God for those for whom this story is new?
- What does ‘being born from above’ mean to you? When and where and how have you experienced this gift of God?