12 March 2017

John 3:1-17

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 121


A reputed religious expert, Nicodemus, came to see Jesus by night. Maybe he hoped to sneak a visit unseen. But it became clear that Nicodemus himself was in the dark, unable to see the meaning of Christ. Darkness, in this passage, is a metaphor for confusion, not seeing.

Nicodemus began by complimenting Jesus (verse 2). Jesus resisted the hook and went straight to the quick. He told Nicodemus that he could only "see" God's kingdom if he was born "from above". (In Jewish cosmology, God is in heaven, above earth.)

Nicodemus seems to have taken this proposition literally as it made no sense to him (verse 4).

In response, Jesus affirmed that entry into the kingdom of God was through "being born of water and Spirit" (v. 5). Water may allude to Baptism, and resonates with the breaking of waters in birth or the Spirit hovering over the waters in creation (Genesis 1:2).

In Aramaic, spirit, breath and wind are the same word. God's Spirit is untameable, and (like the wind blows) where it wills (verse 8). Nicodemus was out of his depth. And Jesus challenged his lack of understanding (verse 10).

At this point, Nicodemus faded from the conversation and Jesus spoke of his community of disciples witnessing to what they had seen and experienced (verse 11).

This, I suggest, illumines Nicodemus' dialogue.

When we know God as a reported idea, we have many pre-conceptions. At some point, we need to start to continually 'let go' of our ideas about God, and come each day afresh to 'know' God, who is beyond ideas.

In contemplative prayer, we need to put a 'cloth' over our chattering minds, to abide in the place below thoughts, where God holds all creation together. This can only be found by silencing or confusing the rational mind, by a way of 'unknowing.'

So maybe Nicodemus was on the right track. He came by night unknowing. But he knew what he wanted. He reappears later in the Gospel after Jesus' death (John 19:39-42). Perhaps we all must keep starting again, walking a path of unknowing.

To Ponder

  • Describe a time when you thought you were an expert on something or someone, and something happened which changed your whole viewing point. What did it feel like?
  • In what ways have you been taught to trust or distrust your spiritual experience? What challenges has this brought?
  • If you were looking out at the world now, not with your normal pre-occupations, but with the eyes of Christ, what would you see?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.