Monday, November 10, 2008

on needing glasses

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” – Jn 3:3

Jesus speaks these words to Nicodemus – a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, and an “elder” of the Jewish religious establishment. In the “ways of religion,” Nicodemus is intelligent. He “knows” all the right religious rules. Nicodemus is “well-versed” in Torah. And yet, Nicodemus begins to sense something new in Jesus. He doesn’t yet see it. But Nicodemus definitely senses something. But unwilling to put his religious reputation on the line, Nicodemus goes “to Jesus by night” (Jn 3:2). Nicodemus has seen the signs and so he decides to investigate Jesus’ legitimacy as a religious teacher.

Now, I imagine that Nicodemus approaches Jesus pretty confident and self-assured. Nicodemus is used to people asking him questions. After all, he’s got a Ph.D. in Pentateuch from Gamaliel U. He knows the Mosaic Law down to the letter. And so Nicodemus approaches Jesus, I imagine, not to learn from him but to evaluate him. Nicodemus wants to know. Is Jesus the “real deal” or not?

And yet, before Nicodemus even poses his first investigatory question, Jesus gives Nicodemus the answer: “no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” Other common translations of the Greek (anothen) include “born again” and “born anew.” But in either case, Jesus is referring to a new spiritual birth from God – a new life (zoe) that existed in Jesus from the beginning (Jn 1:4). “You need new life,” Jesus says, “if you want to see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is thrown for a loop. “How can these things be?” Nicodemus asks (Jn 3:9). Eventually Nicodemus walks away. His world is turned upside down. Only moments earlier, Nicodemus came to Jesus with confidence, thinking he had solved the jigsaw. But now Jesus tells Nicodemus that he’s been working with the wrong pieces.

Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, in my opinion, are the foundation of all authentic discipleship – and the foundation of all true wisdom for that matter. In a mystical way, our life with God is a gift – zoe is something that we receive. No opens their own eyes. Only God gives sight to the blind.

You see, Nicodemus is quite intelligent. His I.Q. is off the charts. But what Jesus tells him is that seeing God’s Kingdom isn’t a matter of having a high I.Q. Rather, seeing the Kingdom comes as a gift – when Jesus turns our world upside down, when experience the grace of being thrown for a loop. In other words, we need eyes for the Kingdom. And only one Optometrist has the right Rx.

FOR TODAY: Sadly, there are people in our world that may never see God’s Kingdom in our midst. But for most Jesus-followers, 20/20 Kingdom-vision is an incremental process. God’s life (zoe) is an incremental process. In other words, the zoe of Jesus inside of us definitely has a beginning – and debates over the moment God’s new life in us actually begins (whether it be the foundation of the world, the sacrament of baptism, the moment we believe, etc.) is responsible for a few different denominations. And of course there is a definite end to our process of rebirth. In other words, a time is coming when we will no longer need to be “born again” – when we will be “fully new” so to speak. Like John says, “When Jesus is revealed, then we will be like him” (1 Jn 3:2). But God’s church now lives in the middle. New life has begun in us, and yet we are not yet “totally new.” Rather, we’re in the process of being made new. And so for today, acknowledge your place in the transition. Ask God for eyes to see the Kingdom in those places of your life where, for whatever reason, you’re currently blind. In other words, rejoice that you’re “born again.” And then be open to a life-long process of being “born again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and …”

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