Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you,
And to bear the cost
Of giving up our false self.
Your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To follow you in all of life,
To Jerusalem and
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Season of Lent: Week Four
Read: John 3: (1-13) 14-21
Throughout the gospels we are invited to listen in as Jesus offers soul care to the crowds, to his followers, and to a wide variety of individuals. This week our lectionary reading takes us by night to where Jesus is lodging while in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. As we wait in the shadows there we see someone approach the house, and knock quietly at the door. As we follow this one into the house, we discover that he is Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a teacher and leader of the Jews. He comes to Jesus by night, possibly to avoid criticism from other Pharisees, priests, or scribes. As a Pharisee Nicodemus would practice strict observance of the Mosaic Law and its many traditions formed over a long period of time by the Jewish elders, always seeking to keep himself from being unclean, and therefore righteous in the sight of God.
Listen in now, as he engages in conversation with Jesus:
“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.” Nicodemus is aware that this teacher, Jesus, must have been sent from God. The miracles Jesus does are a sign of God’s presence and work in and through him. Nicodemus is seeing something here.
Jesus is also aware of what Nicodemus sees and begins to attend to the deeper level of searching and need within this man, moving the conversation toward the kingdom of God: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
The response of Nicodemus signals that he cannot see beyond the human, physical level yet. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” he wonders. “ Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
However Jesus continues to direct his attention toward a deeper and yet a vaster Reality: “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.”
Maybe the eyes of Nicodemus grow wide in surprise as he hears Jesus speak of being born of the Spirit. For Jesus goes on to say: “Do not be astonished that I say 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 responds to the tug to go deeper by asking a question: “How can these things be?” Like we tend to do, he is trying to figure out how God does this work.
In response, Jesus directs Nicodemus to notice the difference between how we think on a human and earthly level and how we receive guidance and revelation from this One who comes from heaven. “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.
Yes, it is eternal life, being righteous before God, that Nicodemus is seeking – through faithful and diligent practice of the Jewish laws and traditions. And now here is this Jesus, speaking of being “lifted up”—being crucified! And whoever believes in this crucified one will have this life eternal. How could crucifixion ever be a way to righteousness and God? This serpent illustration pulls Nicodemus back into the wilderness experience of the Israelites, and their rebellion against Jahweh there. But God had offered healing in the invitation to turn from their unbelief and to look up at the bronze serpent lifted up for all to see.
As if reading Nicodemus’ mind, Jesus now leads him into the great and loving realm of God, where judgment is not based upon keeping the Law of Moses and following the traditions, but on how we relate to Jesus, the Son of God, the light of the world; the One lifted up on the cross to bring healing for humankind.
A kind and understanding guidance here for this Pharisee who desired so much to do the kind of deeds that would somehow please God. He had come to Jesus, the light of the world, and in coming to this light he would gradually be able to see that in embracing the life, death, and teaching of this Jesus, Nicodemus’ deeds are being done in God – not because of fear of the Law and punishment, but out of his life being born anew by the Spirit (John 3:821).
Persons who enter into conversation with us often do not begin with a statement or question which speaks in some way of their deeper, spiritual search and desire. But as we listen deeply and prayerfully, we may discern the clues which are being offered from the deeper place of the soul. In one way or another all persons are God-seekers this side of Eden. The season of Lent often evokes a memory, a desire for God—often spoken in a code of some kind: “I gave up chocolate for Lent,” or “Lent doesn’t mean much to me anymore. I used to give up stuff during Lent. And my mom always served fish. But I don’t know what it all means.” Like Nicodemus, persons (and we too) begin on a surface level. It is the Spirit of God who helps us become aware of the language and hunger of the soul within.
As we continue on this Lenten road, we are invited to the fast of listening, of laying aside our train of thought, our own plans and agenda, in order to be truly present to persons who in one or another, engage in conversation with us. We are also called into stillness within as we hear another’s story. Within that inner silence we become aware of the blowing of the Spirit – the guidance and help of the Spirit of Jesus. In this way we can sense the invitation to offer spiritual guidance, the gradual shift to levels of another’s story which go deeper and which begin to reveal their inner needs and hungers. In time we may direct a person’s attention to Jesus, to God – the One who in kindness and love has come among us, come to us where we are, to bring light and offer a way to life.
Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You come to us.
Help me to see as you see,
To recognize your presence
In the desert of Lent,
And to learn God’s way.
Season of Lent: Week Four
- 3/12 Monday: John 3:14-16
- 3/13 Tuesday: John 3:17-21
- 3/14 Wednesday: Psalm 107:1-3,17-22
- 3/15 Thursday: Numbers 21:4-9
- 3/16 Friday: Ephesians 2:1-10
- 3/17 Saturday: John 3:14-16
- 3/18 Sunday: John 3:17-21