The Readings: Judges 12:1-7; Acts 5:12-26; John 3:1-21
Judges 2:11-23 is commonly recognized as describing the pattern that plays out repeatedly in the book. Today’s reading: another reminder that the description is perhaps overly optimistic: “he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” (v.18) does not, alas, include the occasions in which the Israelites are their own worst enemies.
The Acts reading should, perhaps, get us wondering: why is physical healing so problematic a part of Christian witness in the West? Why is its role noticeably reduced from the role as portrayed in Acts? Figuring out the right questions to ask looks like an important part of the challenge.
The opening moves in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus are puzzling. The prophets had used different metaphors to talk about God’s future work in Israel (writing the law on the heart, a heart of flesh). Why does Nicodemus not recognize “born from above” as a similar metaphor?
Why Jesus opens with “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” is perhaps an easier puzzle. Nicodemus’ “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God” sounds like the voice of the gatekeepers. Jesus’ response sounds like a warning that the leaders are in no position to gate keep. The issue isn’t that they need to get themselves “born from above”—that cuts against the logic of the metaphor (we’re not the agents of our own births). “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The appropriate response, it would seem, is to pray for God’s mercy, a prayer that might be enacted by, say, submitting to John’s baptism.
Today Jesus’ words, less helpfully translated as “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (NIV), often commonly serve as a lead-in to a straightforward explanation as to how one gets oneself “born again.” This fits with our culture’s passion for self-help. But does that not get the conversation off on the wrong foot? Is my/our salvation something I/we manage?