Tag Archives: Nicodemus

Water and Spirit

Christina DeMichele, Christ Enthroned in His Creation (Used with permission)

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

John 3:7-15

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked Jesus (John 3:9). How can a person be “born of the Spirit?”

The youthful Mary had also asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary received the forthright response, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

Gabriel’s answer did not explain how in the scientific sense, but it named the agent of the miraculous Virgin birth. “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 

Nicodemus received a less clement response:

“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.

John 3:11

Written in the last half of the first century, the Gospel of John was composed in the milieu of the tension between the early church and the synagogue. The shift to the plural, “you people,” seems to express a sorrowful gulf between Jesus and the community of teachers represented by Nicodemus.

The Torah is a window onto eternity. Nicodemus was expected to recognize the face of God and the works of the Spirit of God, given all his learning.

If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

John 3:12

The “I” of the Dabar/Logos/Word spoke “in the beginning”—Bereshitthe first word of the Torah. The entire book of Genesis is a record of God’s covenant love with humankind. The Lord God Almighty of Israel gave to Moses the gift of the Ten Commandments to guide his people in living a holy life on earth, paving the way to “heavenly things.” Through his mouthpiece, the prophets, the Lord God described himself as a king, shepherd, prince of peace, potter, father, lover, husband, mother, hen, Spirit, wind, breath, rock, fortress, tower, and more. By means of vibrant and colorful earthly images, God painted a splendid portrait of his character for Israel. 

Nevertheless, making the leap from the Torah to Christ was by no means self-evident. Nor is this dialogue with Jesus in the dark of night easily comprehended. Nicodemus speaks for all persons, past and present, in his perplexity. A survey of biblical commentaries on this passage reveals an abundance of varied and divergent interpretations. Nicodemus’ “How can this be?” continues to reverberate down the centuries. 

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.”

John 3:13-15

Jesus identified himself with the ladder of the holy patriarch Jacob-Israel (Genesis 28:12). The Greek verbs for ascending and descending in John 3:13 and the Greek Septuagint version of Genesis 28:12 are identical. 

Jesus also identified himself with the likeness of the poisonous serpent that healed the children of Israel in the desert (Numbers 21:9).1 Moses’ original action of “setting” the serpent on a pole becomes in the Messianic light an exaltation and glorification2 of the “Son of Man,” a self-referential term from the Psalms, Ezekiel, and Daniel that Jesus frequently used. The promised Messiah has come to heal the brokenhearted and bind up the wounded, and to send his Spirit to renew the face of the earth (Isaiah 61:1; Psalm 147:3; Luke 4:18; Psalm 104:30: Genesis 1:2).

The angel Gabriel’s answer to the Blessed Virgin Mary is the answer for all her children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ her Son. For the Woman whose womb waters were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit is a living symbol of the watery Womb of God the Father.

And the earth was tohu vavohu (without form, and void); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (Orthodox Jewish Bible)

From the Virgin Father’s Womb to the Virgin Mother’s womb, the creation and recreation of Adam and the earth are accomplished by “water and Spirit” (John 3:5).

We join Nicodemus in his journey from the nighttime of obscurity to the dawning light of faith in the resurrection of the Son of Man on the third day.

-GMC

1 See related post: Christ and the Bronze Serpent

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to John 3:14.

Born of God

Jesus and Nicodemus, Providence Lithograph Company (1904)

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

John 3:1-8

In the dark of night, Nicodemus secretly sought out Jesus to obtain the light of truth. He risked his reputation among the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin if he was caught consulting Israel’s most wanted. 

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.”

John 3:2

The gentle voice of truth in the heart managed to gain a hearing in Nicodemus above the internal and external din of mob pressure and conformity. Humility and courage opened his eyes to see the hand of God in Jesus’ signs among the people.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

John 3:3

A new seed, a new birth, a complete regeneration of our nature in divine grace was called for by Jesus. Anóthen (ἄνωθεν), “from above,”  “from the origin,” or “again” and “anew” hearkens to a beginningless beginning—God himself (John 1:12-13). The water and Spirit of the original and eternal Womb of God the Father beckons humanity and the cosmos back to its origin (bereshit, the opening word of the Torah in Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning”). 

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”

John 3:4

Nicodemus, listening with the ears of flesh (sarx) and not the spirit (pneuma), interpreted Jesus’ words on the empirical plane alone. Once born from the maternal womb, who can be born “again”?

Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.

John 3:5-6

Flesh and spirit, Adam and the cosmos, were created to be one in the beginning. The sin of division and war among the elements characterizes the landscape of reality post-Eden. John’s Prologue introduces a new beginning, a new bereshit in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

John 1:1-2

The new Adam is anóthen, born “from above,” the Son of God who has integrated spirit and flesh, humanity and the cosmos, Jew and Gentile, and male and female in his own person. A new beginning calls for a new birth, the fulfillment of the cosmic cleansing of Noah’s flood. 

Christ, the ark of salvation, leads all creation ashore the Promised Land in his Body through “water and Spirit.” At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river, the Father declared the divine Sonship of Christ to all the world: 

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:11; Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22

Words, images, symbols and reality in Genesis 1:2 and John 3:5 come together in the lives of real persons transformed by Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘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.”

John 3:7-8

Are the children of God evanescent and hard to pin down, like the wind? Jesus’ description sounds rather ghostlike. The risen Christ himself models the enigmatic and poetic description of persons “born of the Spirit.” Like a ghost, Jesus appeared and disappeared, and moved through solid walls and doors in his risen flesh. At the same time, he invited his disciples to touch his body and realize that he was not a ghost:

While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

Luke 24:36-43

Two millennia after the resurrection, the words and actions of Jesus in the Gospels continue to stretch human faith and imagination. Saints past and present, starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Mary Magdalene, the holy women, and the disciples testify that Christ is truly risen. He is risen indeed!

-GMC

The Easter Season: a School of Faith

Nicodemus

Nicodemus reminds us that faith doesn’t depend on how sharp our minds are or how many books we’ve read. Faith is God’s gift to us. We are all still in the school of faith.

On Friday of the Second Week of Easter we begin reading from John’s gospel about Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6) There’s a lot of unbelief in the crowd that Jesus feeds, according to John. “Many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him,” . Besides those who radically reject Jesus’ claim to be the bread come down from heaven,  others appear to have little appreciation for this great sign. Commentators suspect this this section of John’s gospel may indicate there were troubles over the Eucharist and over the identity of Jesus in the churches John is writing for.

Most of the gospel readings for the last weeks of the Easter season are taken from the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel. There too the disciples seem far from perfect. They’re fearful, they seem to understand Jesus so little. He calls them “little children,”  not far removed from the children making their Communion this season.

There are no perfect believers  in the gospels of our Easter season. Plenty of imperfect believers, like us, which tells us that faith is something to pray and struggle for. More importantly, they reveal the goodness of Jesus, who showed the wounds in his hands and his side to Thomas, who never dismissed Nicodemus to the night, who came to table with his disciples and fed them again, who called them “his own” and prayed that they would not fail.

We’re in a school of faith in the Easter season where the Risen Christ speaks to us in signs like water, bread and wine, words that promise a world beyond ours and teach us how to live in our world today.  He is our Teacher and Lord.

The Man Who Came By Night

John 3, 14-21 4th Sunday of Lent

After Jesus cleanses the temple and says prophetically he himself is its replacement, Nicodemus comes to see him by night. He’s a Pharisee, an important person in Jerusalem, probably connected with the temple worship, and no doubt worried what people would think if they saw him with Jesus by day. In fact, other Jewish leaders in the city were thinking of putting him to death.

But despite coming to Jesus in the darkness, Nicodemus is not a slave of the dark. He’s looking for light. Maybe he’s not the bravest person in the world, but he’s an honest questioner, searching for the truth. Jesus does not point out to him his miracles, his healings, the crowds he draws, to establish his credentials. It’s not success stories he tells Nicodemus. It’s a story of a tragedy turned into victory.

Nicodemus would have recognized the story Jesus tells–a story from the epic desert journey of the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land when they fell into unbelief and doubt and were bitten by snakes causing many of them to die.

Then, a serpent was lifted up on a staff, and they were healed at the sight. It will not be Jesus’ successes that bring Nicodemus to believe in him. He would soon see Jesus lifted up on a cross and, by God’s grace, he came to believe. God’s mercy and love were there before him, healing all who needed forgiveness.

The Pharisee, a leader in Israel, doesn’t hide in the dark any more; along with Joseph of Arimithea, another Jewish official drawn to Jesus, Nicodemus boldly goes to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body and they bury it in a  tomb nearby. The mystery of the Cross brought Nicodemus to believe.

We go to you through questions, Lord, sometimes with our doubts. Like Nicodemus we often go to you in the night, but you do not mind receiving us then. For with you “the night itself is like the day.”

As long as we do not love the darkness, you listen and reach out. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but might have eternal life.”

Teach us wisdom through your cross.