Jesus and Nicodemus might as well be speaking different languages. Jesus speaks of birth from above; Nicodemus is befuddled. Jesus speaks of the spirit as wind blowing where it will; Nicodemus wonders how this can be. They are like a creationist and a paleontologist comparing notes on fossils--they simply can't fathom each other. Their organizing assumptions are too different. Here's when we sense that Nicodemus begins to understand what Jesus is saying: when Jesus reinterprets the story of Israel in the wilderness, drawing from the language that has oriented Nicodemus's life and thought. It doesn't seem likely, after all, that the series of puzzling metaphors Jesus begins with would push Nicodemus to understanding. But something clearly does.
Lent | Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year B)
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
Some years back, I was surprised to hear John called the beginner’s Gospel. Surely the Gospel to begin with was Mark, the shortest and most likely the oldest, or Luke, with all those wonderful stories. John seemed to me a second-semester topic—or a graduate-level course. I saw it as an astonishing theological elaboration and re-presentation of the person of Jesus of Nazareth seen in the other books. The testimony of those sources needed to be heard first, I thought, before John’s majestically self-describing Christ could be understood.There was an additional reason that I thought it a mistake to hand the fourth Gospel over to “baby Christians.” I thought the book dangerous.
On Larry King Live the other night, a well-known Christian musician was telling his life story, and it was exactly the kind of story I prefer not to hear from the pulpit. As King peered at him through his owlish glasses, the musician told of being raised in a warm and loving Christian family and of discovering in high school that he was blessed both with a vibrant faith and with a rare musical gift. Eventually shaking off the dust of his little town, he took his faith and his keyboard and headed off toward the bright lights of Nashville, aiming at a career in gospel music.