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The gospel of John one of the four stories of the good news of Jesus (Gospel means good news) which tells his life, actions, words and mission. It’s believed that John’s account is the last one written as his retelling of the story reflects considerable theological reflection and uses metaphors and poetic language. One example is the play with light and darkness throughout the story. John’s account also contains only seven miracles – or signs as they’re called. A symbolic number in Jewish tradition that represents the divine and also recall the days of creation in the foundational story of Genesis.
Our text today is an encounter and late-night conversation between Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, the leaders of the people at the time (what we might call an elite) and Jesus. The Pharisees were an order of Judaism in Jesus’ day that envisioned the fundamentals of faith as the total obedience of God, following and obeying all of God’s commandments (all 613 of them) every day in every way. Nicodemus comes to Jesus, who he recognizes as a great teacher and master of the Way of God. But he’s confused, for Jesus doesn’t seem to do faith how the Pharisees do. Jesus talks of faith not as an understanding or an acquisition of the knowledge of God and God’s ways, but rather as an entering into God’s work and ways in the world: the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus is talking about knowledge and understanding. Jesus is talking about participating and experiencing.
Nicodemus can’t get past the importance of pragmatic belief. Seeing is believing. Understanding is key. So Jesus brings up some example in the created world of things we see and don’t understand and in which we believe – like the presence and power of the wind. Remember that the word for wind (in Greek [PNEUMA] and Hebrew [RUAH]) also means Spirit and breath. Jesus seems to be explaining the mystery and also pointing to the way in which God’s Spirit moves in creation from the very beginning of all things. (“When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind/Spirit/breath [PNEUMA/RUAH] swept over the waters— 3 God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared.”- Genesis 1:1-3)
It’s almost as if Nicodemus seems to think you have to understand before believing; whereas Jesus is saying to jump into the waters of belief before faith comes. It’s a mysterious truth about faith that Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) said as “faith is always a leap of faith.” Salvation is the act of believing in or accepting something outside the boundaries of reason.
Questions for Reflection & Examen:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in the text?
• What do you think comes first in the journey of faith – understanding or participating? How have you experienced it in your life?
• This time of pandemic is one of overwhelming fatigue. We can’t understand so much…and why we’re so stuck. Do you think we should be asking “Why is God permitting all this hot mess?” or “Where is God inviting me to be in all this?
• What invitation do you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you – or to us, as a church – to act, speak, be or change through this word of scripture?