Monday, April 28, 2014

No one can begin a new life, unless he repent of the old

Baptism is not the work of man but of Christ, and this sacrament is so holy that it would not be defiled, even if the minister were a murderer. - St. Isidore, Doctor of the Church

Gospel Text: (JN 3:1-8)
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
He came to Jesus at 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 are doing
unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can a man once grown old be born again?
Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is 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.”

When we encounter God, we encounter God as we are. And that means we encounter God filled with our own limits and prejudices, talents and restrictions. So much has made us who we are. Families, friends, education, background, and beliefs. These things are immutable, in many cases. And they have a substantial impact on us, shaping us, governing us, forming us. No wonder Nicodemus is so incredulous. How then, are we to be re-born, restored to our destined life as children of God?

This is why Jesus focuses on the Spirit. Re-birth is something outside of our control, it is Spirit and water. We cannot change ourselves, but we can trust in the power of God to transform us. Water washing over us cleanses us. This is the power of baptism; we are bathed and washed clean by the power of God. We are, truly, “born again.”

This can be a scary concept, disquieting and discomforting. Maybe this is why Nicodemus points out the absurdities of the situation. No longer of this world, but from above. No longer flesh, but Spirit. And this Spirit is wild, untamed. We cannot see it, we cannot know where it is going. But, Jesus assures us that it will take us with it.

And perhaps this is what is scariest – all of those immutable things, they are safe, they are comfortable, they are, if not always known, at least familiar. Jesus here invites Nicodemus (and us) into a new world, the world that is above, a world infused with the Spirit of God. It won’t be the same. It will be liberating and transformative. A new way of living, even. But that also means an unknown way of living. And a way of living that will be strange, unfamiliar, and perhaps even dangerous. For, all those around us may not understand why we are this new way. We can invite them into the life of the Spirit, true, but they will be just as challenged and discomforted as were we, initially. Yet, the Spirit blows where it wills, taking us with it, so that we might find new life in the Kingdom of God.

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