Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Accepting Jesus' offer of change and rebirth is not always easy (Tuesday, 2nd Week of Easter, John 3:7-15)

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, 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 answered and said to him, ‘How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know
and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things
and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you
about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

* * * * * * * *

There are two kinds of misunderstanding. There is the misunderstanding of a person who misunderstands because he has not yet reached a stage of knowledge and experience at which he is able to grasp the truth.

When someone is in that state, our duty is to do all that we can to explain things to him so that he will be able to grasp the knowledge being offered to him.

But there is also the misunderstanding of a person who is perhaps simply unwilling to understand. There is a failure to see that comes from the simple refusal to see. One can deliberately shut his mind to truth which he does not wish to accept.

Nicodemus, at least at this point of his encounter and journey with Jesus, was like the second type of person. The teaching about a new birth from God should not have been strange to him. The prophet Ezekiel, for instance, had spoken repeatedly about the new heart that must be created in a a person. "Cast away from you all the transgressions, which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why win you die, O house of Israel?" (Eze.18:31). "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I wig put within you" (Eze.36:26).

And since Nicodemus was an expert in scripture and since the prophets spoke over and over again of the very experience Jesus was talking about, he should have understood Jesus immediately.

If one does not wish to be reborn, he will deliberately misunderstand what rebirth means. If one does not wish to be changed, he will deliberately shut his eyes and his mind and his heart to the power which can change him.

Often enough, Nicodemus’ situation is very much like our own. When Jesus comes to us with an offer to change us and re-create us, we more or less say: “No thank you: I am quite satisfied with myself as I am, and I don't want to be changed.”

This, of course, was not the final chapter of Nicodemus’ story. He did eventually come to understand the words of Jesus, becoming one of his followers in fact. Sometimes, it takes a while for the grace of God to finally open the eyes of someone who refuses to see; but if there is enough trust and faith in one’s heart, even the initial stubbornness can be overcome. And as we know from the rest of the New Testament story, Nicodemus remained faithful to Jesus to the very end. He allowed Jesus to change him, and experienced the rebirth of which Jesus had spoken.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)