This passage from John Chapter 3 is so familiar, that we must wonder if there is anything more to discover. “For God so loved the world…” But does anyone remember that happened in Chapter 2?
A quick recap – Jesus goes to a wedding and turns water into wine in Cana, then goes on to Capernaum with his mother, brothers and disciples and stays for a few days. From there he travels to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, arrives at the temple and immediately causes a ruckus by chasing out of the money-changers in the Temple courtyard. Now, the other gospels put this event near the end of his ministry – and you can be pretty sure he only did it once! So, what’s going on here? Why is John’s gospel so different?
Without going on at great length, I’ll just remind you that John’s gospel was the last to be written, a good hundred years after Jesus birth. It is written not so much as a historic document, but rather a theological statement about the divinity of Jesus, woven together through story. No one was sitting in the shadows taking notes while Jesus and Nicodemus talked. So, I wondered that Nicodemus would say about it if he could talk with us today. So please welcome Nicodemus…
“Good morning friends and thank you for the invitation to speak with you today. Has anyone ever seen a hockey game, or football, and seen someone holding us a sign: John 3:16? Yup, that’s my story. At least that’s part of the story.
Jesus and I met because of what he did in the temple courtyard. Oh he stirred up a hornet’s nest when he drove out the money-changers. The anger of my colleagues was white hot. How dare he! “Everyone knows we have to have the temple tax,” they said, “needing to exchange that filthy Roman money for something acceptable in the Temple.” Well yes, the money changers may have been skimming a little off the top, but that’s called capitalism, and I understand you’re all well acquainted with that method of business.
I too was disturbed by what he did, but…there was something else. Before I could censor it away, with the proper prayers, a part of me… long forgotten … said an emphatic YES!! Yes – about time someone stirred things up a bit. Of course I didn’t let the other Pharisees know my reaction. When a volunteer was asked for, to shadow this radical rabbi from Galilee, I solemnly offered. I would try to flatter him and get to know more about his plans. We had to keep an eye on him.
The thing about Jesus, is that he was almost always willing to talk if someone expressed interest. So, I tried the old flattery trick. “Rabbi Jesus it is so clear that you are inspired by God, that you indeed are a messenger from God…” I was just getting wound up, when he interrupted me.
“Nicodemus, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew.”
What? Born anew? Look Jesus, I’m nearly 65, I’m an old man, and my mother has long since passed from this life. This doesn’t make sense to me, Rabbi.
Jesus said to me, “A baby is a baby, ready to be filled with all the knowledge her parents offer, all the knowledge the elders teach, all the history of the people. But you get stuck there, thinking you know it all. You know the rules, you know the consequences of not following them. But you don’t know about the Spirit. The Spirit of God, Nic., stirs things up. Makes you question everything you so carefully learned.
You think you know who is righteous and who is not? You think you know whom to flatter, and whom to ignore? You think you know whom God loves and whom God distains? Forget everything you learned Nic. Let it go and open your heart to the Holy Spirit. It will blow you away! Be born again, Nicodemus; again, for the first time.
Divine Love aches for this world. The One we call God loves this sorry old world so much, and longs to be in relationship with each of us. I know that’s why I’m here, Nicodemus – to show God’s love in the world, and if people can see that in me, as you said you could, then the kingdom of God is here and now and always.”
I could hear no more that night. My head was spinning. I was appalled and enthralled at the same time. Let go of everything I knew? All I’d been taught? I was quite secure in knowing with whom God was pleased, thank you very much, and what kinds of sacrifice were acceptable to the Holy One. I wish now that I had stayed longer, perhaps I could have influenced what else was said.
For I see what got slipped in there by the early church – belief in Jesus as the only way to know God, to the exclusion of all others. Unfortunately, this has led many of `the faithful’ to abandon the actual teachings of Jesus – either by insisting that others convert, or insisting that they will suffer eternally for not converting. Alas, it seem anytime there is a new prophet, a new messenger who experiences the Holy One in a new way, some want to insist their way is the only way – holding others in contempt at best, ignoring their suffering or persecuting them outright.
What is more important than right beliefs and careful creeds, is the living a life of compassion, being a source of healing, not wounding, trusting in and deepening your connection to God, as Jesus did through prayer. Prayer is accessible to all people of all languages and customs and religions. I learned this bit of wisdom from the Sufi’s, the Islamic mystics. They say:
Don’t make friends with an elephant trainer unless you have room in your home for an elephant.
So as I reflect on my evening conversation with Jesus, and how it changed my life, I offer this prayer by Edward Hays. Perhaps it will echo in your heart as well…
O Blessed One, you whose voice calls me to the sacred path of the pilgrim,
I wish to seek you with all my heart.
Yet I am often half-hearted in that desire when I realize the cost of such a quest.
My life is rather comfortable and well-ordered and fits me like an old shoe.
I fear the knowledge that if I romance you I may lose what I hold dear.
Be compassionate with my hesitation, as I measure the cost of loving you.
I have read in the holy books, and know from the lives of the saints,
that you, my God, come as purifying fire to burn away all that is not true.
I tremble at the thought of you consuming those things that I love
and even my prized image of who I am.
Yet, I also want to know you more fully:
help me to embrace the awesome implications of my inviting you to enter my life.
Enlarge my half-hearted love with the ageless truth
that if I seek your kingdom first, seek to be fully possessed by you,
everything I need shall be given me,
and happiness beyond my expectations shall be mine.
Come today, Creator of elephants and saints, and befriend me. Amen.
Edward Hays – Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim p. 200 (slightly adapted by Juanita)
So I encourage you to invite the Creator of elephants and saints, to come, be born in you, shake you up some, and give you the strength to bend like a willow in the restless winds of the Spirit. Amen.