Bible Workbench: Trinity Sunday: June 7, 2009

From a reader:

John 3:1-17
Nicodemus

“What more do you now know of being born from above? (BWB 16:4, p. 113)

This lesson about being “born from above, born anew, born again” is very interesting to me for three reasons:

  1. Jesus gives it its name and Nicodemus acts it out for us; usually Jesus is the one who demonstrates the Godly action of importance;
  2. being born again appears , as in one’s original physical birth, to be a process rather than a single momentary action; and
  3. rebirth occurs over and over again God willing and as we allow it.

Nicodemus was a leader of the Pharisees—not a bad bunch of people, just people whom we know from the stories were very set in their ways. (As an Episcopalian this concept is foreign to me. I jest, of course, i.e. giving up the 1928 prayer book, ordination of women, treatment of gays, etc.) Back to Nicodemus and Jesus. Probably many Pharisees were curious about Jesus, both his words and his works; he was definitely making a name for himself. However, only a few Pharisees that we know about sought Jesus to talk with him, and from the stories we are told that most wanted to trap Jesus or to undermine the authority he was gaining. Not so with Nicodemus, however; he appeared to be honestly curious and admiring; perhaps it was his fear of his own non-threatening sensitivity that he first approached Jesus when it was dark. Possibly he couldn’t believe he was doing what he was doing. Maybe that was the first rebirth process, seeking out of love for what he was witnessing.

In his second appearance Nicodemus is among the chief priests and those who have been sent to bring Jesus in, but they haven’t brought him because they have been moved by Jesus’ words. The priests verbally lash out at them stating that no ruler, nor other Pharisees have fallen under Jesus’ spell. They then say, “As for this rabble, which cares nothing for the Law, a curse is on them.” Nicodemus seizes this opportunity to ask his question.: “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” Note, he does not defend Jesus, but he does defend the Law and requests fairness for Jesus. The lame response from the priests is that the study of scriptures indicates that prophets do not come from Galilee. Their hearts and minds are closed. Surely, we all know of such prejudices which doubt the omnipotence and impartiality of God. But Nicodemus has understood what has happened, and in his speaking reveals his new birth.

Our final encounter with Nicodemus, this enactor of “being born from above” comes when he joins Joseph of Arimathea to administer the burial rites to Jesus after his crucifixion. This is an emboldened Nicodemus no longer hiding in the darkness, no longer couching his admiration for Jesus in the safety of questions rather than statements, but one who is taking action to do what is required for any Jew held in esteem; he exposes his love for Jesus in this act.

This “being born again” is not the involuntary physical action as it occurs in the womb but a voluntary act of one’s will to come out of a dark place into the light of God. It is the response of opening one’s heart and mind to the ever creative and calling spirit of God; it is the letting go of the security and comfort of old ideals which no longer support the growing soul; it is a resurrection and a new life.

Ruth Zepeda, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport, LA

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