Friday, March 18, 2011

The Sure and Certain Meaning of Nicodemus

On Sunday many of us will hear the story from John about Nicodemus’s night time visit to Jesus and the ensuing conversation about wind and Spirit and being born from above, or perhaps again, and the possibility that one might not make into the kingdom unless on is tapped for salvation by the Spirit.   
It’s a story that has long fascinated me, partly because it cannot be understood by the casual reader, and scholars have been debating its meaning for thousands of years.  The multiple word plays in both Hebrew and Greek, as well as the disjointed syntax of the conversation itself, simply leave one’s head spinning.  It is in that environment that the preacher is expected to make some sense of it that will help ordinary Christians come to a more profound understanding of their faith.  
Dave has a way to do that.  In fact he is quite sure about the meanings embedded in this passage and wonders at my confusion.  Dave was raised in a fundamentalist church where he memorized huge portions of scripture, and was taught their absolute and indisputable interpretation.  For him the story is perfectly clear.  Nicodemus, a creature of the dark, epitomizes the stiffed necked, closed minded and ultimately damned nature of Pharisees and all their fellow travelers.  The need to be born again of the Spirit establishes the threshold that separates would be Christians from real Christians.  That’s what Dave says and he sees no reason for further discussion.  Moreover, he’s a little worried that I am some distance from being saved.  As you can imagine, Dave is not comfortable with Anglican theological ambiguity and inconsistencies.  
Those who worship with me in the tiny rural church I serve in my retirement will be looking for a more Dave like answer to their questions.  How comforting it would be.  Instead, we will explore together the limitations of a gospel writer who could capture only a few core pieces of a much longer and more complex conversation, what it might mean for us to join Nicodemus in coming out of our own dark place into the light of Christ, something of the mystery of God’s presence that flows where it will, and some reassurance that being born of the Spirit from above is function of God not of a particular human experience.  Maybe the wind will blow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, the word-play on "spirit" and "wind" so much used in ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic is much evident in this passage. (It is in Latin too, in the words anima and animus, etc.) Dr B