Not So Easy to Be Born Again!

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter
April 18, 2023

Today’s Readings:

The words in today’s readings are little explosives camouflaged in familiarity.

We are used to reading how the earliest Christians formed a loving and mutual community. We might admire how they held everything in common. We might think how nice and comforting that must have been for everyone.

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the Apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.

Acts 4:32

But, friends, I don’t think it was all that comforting! I think it was hard! People who had worked tirelessly to build secure lives had to rethink that security. Whether in material goods or established reputations, they had to give up houses, businesses, rabbi-ships, and political offices to truly be part of this radical new “community”.

They had to split the last two matzah balls with some dude who never worked a day in his life. It’s not easy!

Picture the heated conversations between someone choosing this “community” and a spouse who preferred to keep their big boat and villa by the seaside.

Imagine the rumbling synagogue crowd when the beloved old rabbi told them just to call him “brother”! Hear the distressed uproar when he announced that the Holy Law he had confidently taught them now must be rethought in Gospel light!

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t as smooth as Acts seems to imply. There is a small acknowledgment of that in the notoriety given to astoundingly generous Joseph. He stood out for buying in completely to this new community. ( We’ll hear more about him later under his new name “Barnabas”).

Thus Joseph, also named by the Apostles Barnabas
(which is translated “”son of encouragement””),
a Levite, a Cypriot by birth,
sold a piece of property that he owned,
then brought the money and put it at the feet of the Apostles.

Acts 4:36-37

By Henry Ossawa Tanner

The Gospel story of Nicodemus confirms the struggle to really become a Gospel person. It should be profoundly unsettling to those of us  -and I think that is ALL of us – who sometimes thrive on security, status, and control.

Nicodemus had “made it” in Jewish society. He was considered a good, learned, influential and wealthy man. But Jesus challenges him on every level of his success to test what he values and builds his life on.

  • Is Nicodemus really “good” in light of the Beatitudes?
  • Is he really “learned” in living the law of radical love?
  • Is he really “rich” in holy grace?

  • Or is his “goodness” tinged with judgement?
  • His “learning” mired in self-righteousness?
  • His “wealth” rooted in complacency with systemic injustice?

Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Spirit of God will not be tamed or controlled by these supposed “successes” of his life. Rather, Nicodemus must start all over again to be transformed in God:

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:7-8

And here’s the really hard thing. We must make the “Nicodemus Choice” every day of our lives. Every circumstance invites us either to be “born again” or to choose the old securities we are so falsely comfortable with. Those securities can blind us with the complacency of one who has forgotten how to see.

Jesus answered and said to him,
“You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Amen, amen, I say to you,
we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen,
but you people do not accept our testimony.
If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe,
how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

John 3:10-12

Poetry: Nicodemus – Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907) 

With slow and stealthy steps he trod 
— The darkening and deserted streets; 
— And no one in the market greets 
The man upon his way to God. 

By night he left the splendid home 
— That sheltered many a sleeping guest. 
— One and another lay at rest — 
The master of the house would roam. 

Was there a single soul that knew? 
— No! For he feared the eye of scorn, 
— The crooked laugh of anger born. 
Only the bats about him flew. 

The broidered borders of his gown 
— He covered o’er, that none might see. 
— Shall good come out of Galilee? 
This were the mock of all the town. 

But in the City named for Peace 
— No peace his weary heart had known, 
— And ever in the crowd alone 
He waged a war that would not cease. 

He came by night — and yet he came. 
— And He that was Himself the Way 
— Shall own him in the Judgment Day, 
And to the world confess his name.

Music: Nicodemus – Graham Kendrick

2 thoughts on “Not So Easy to Be Born Again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s