Prepare to listen. Read God’s Word with the attitude of a beginner and learner. Hear God’s word to you: I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. (Psalm 32:8)
Read John 3:1-10
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘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.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8The 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.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
Nicodemus came to Jesus ‘by night,’ that is in the dark. Darkness and light are two symbolic themes in John’s Gospel. Darkness refers to both that which opposes God and also ignorance, not knowing. The fact that Nicodemus, came in darkness suggests, not so much a desire for secrecy (as is so often suggested), but is symbolic of his state of ignorance, of not knowing. He will need to admit his ignorance before he can truly know and believe. When he first approached Jesus, he didn’t know his ignorance, confidently stating what he knows: ‘Rabbi, we know….’ Instead of affirming his knowing, Jesus challenged Nicodemus with a seemingly cryptic statement: ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’
Nicodemus doesn’t get it because he only thinks literally and thus seems to ridicule Jesus. It’s impossible, he mocks, to reenter a mother’s womb and be born again, possibly thinking Jesus was talking nonsense. He mocks because he still doesn’t realize his ignorance. Jesus patiently explains and finally Nicodemus admits his own ignorance bursting out, ‘How can these things be?’ To which Jesus responds by emphasizing Nicodemus’ not knowing. A teacher in Israel, such as him, ought to know these things.
We don’t know Nicodemus’ response, but he appears again in John and seems to be on Jesus' side, a believer (see John 7:45-53 and 19:38-40). This suggests he journeyed from knowing to not knowing to belief. Such a journey that is necessary for every follower of Jesus. We began the Christian life with a confident knowing, perhaps,even bragging about ‘being born again.’ But then one day something changes, and the questions begin coming, forcing us to own our ignorance. Some of us, like Nicodemus, even ridiculed the faith for a time. But, if we stick with the journey, struggle through the not knowing, we eventually reach a place where our belief and knowing is far deeper, more meaningful, more faithful, albeit not always comprehensible.
Where are you in the journey from knowing (or thinking you know) to not knowing (perhaps even mocking a little) to belief? Regardless, commit to staying with the journey.
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Jesus, help me hear your challenging questions so that I own my own ignorance and learn to walk more and more by faith and not knowing, and less and less by sight and knowing. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world as a questioning believer.
Reading the Bible has always been essential to followers of Jesus. I've been reading, studying, teaching and writing reflections on biblical texts for as long as I can remember. I invite you to read the Bible with me during the Lent and into Easter Sunday.