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A reflection for the Monday of the Second Week of Easter

You can find today’s readings here.

Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3)

We’ve all done it. We have sought the advice of someone in secret, afraid of what others might think or say. Nicodemus did it. He sought Jesus in the night, when no one would see him. As a Pharisee, he was not to be seen with a Jew who was the kind of rebel Jesus was. But he knew Jesus was different and so he went to meet with him when it was dark and safe to do so, away from the prying eyes in the daylight who would denounce his encounter with Jesus to the authorities.

“Rabbi,” Nicodemus says, addressing Jesus as a teacher. “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.” Nicodemus does not hold back, he immediately discloses what he believes he knows about Jesus. “Amen, amen,” Jesus replies. “I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Association with Jesus could have sparked all sorts of trouble for Nicodemus. We are told he was “a ruler of the Jews,” which meant he was a learned and distinguished person in the community, someone to whom other Jews would go for instruction on the Jewish law, practices and rituals. Imagine how it would look in a highly hierarchical society if Nicodemus went openly to meet with Jesus to seek his counsel. Worse, if others heard him calling young Jesus—who had no formal instruction, training or status in the community—a Rabbi.

Unless we see God’s action here, we cannot possibly connect with the God who is above.

But go to Jesus Nicodemus does. His late night meeting with Jesus might be baffling. Unless you recall what happened just before this scene in John’s Gospel. Jesus goes to Jerusalem for Passover and finds that the temple has been turned into a marketplace. Enraged, Jesus fashioned “a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” Nicodemus would surely have heard, if not witnessed, this spectacle, and possibly also heard of the miracle at the wedding in Cana, so he seeks Jesus for answers to things he cannot explain. But he is unsatisfied with the reply about being born from above, and replies: “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” But, this is where our English translation also offers us limited context for what is happening.

The Greek word anōthen admits two interpretations. It is clear from the rest of the conversation that here Jesus meant “above”. Nicodemus, however, thought that Jesus was saying that he needed to be born “again,” hence his comment about re-entering his mother’s womb. The teacher of the law missed the nuance, and that made all the difference.

Despite his years poring over the Scriptures and other sacred texts, Nicodemus had not really understood the Scriptures. Jesus will go on to remind him—in the verses immediately following today’s chosen passage—that to truly believe in God, he needed to believe all he was seeing happen on earth. “If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

Nicodemus’ nocturnal lesson at the feet of Jesus, his teacher, is a reminder for us—who are tempted to worship God with our head in the clouds, buried in mystery and magic—that God is constantly revealing Godself in the humdrum of everyday life. Unless we see God’s action here, we cannot possibly connect with the God who is above. In the same way, unless, like Nicodemus, we are prepared to learn from those who are seemingly unlearned, like Jesus appeared to be when still among us, what is above will be concealed from us. In this time of Easter we, like Nicodemus, are called to see the signs of Jesus’ resurrection in the here and now.

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