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Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, January 17, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  John 2:23—3:15

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (NRSV)

(As I always remind us when we are dealing with the Gospel of John, please be attentive to anti-Semitic ways of interpreting this text. John is particularly tricky about that due to the historical context in which he wrote. If you are interested in learning more, I suggest reading Dr. Amy Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar of the New Testament.)

I appreciate Nicodemus. I always have. Like Peter, Nicodemus does not hold anything back from Jesus. He says exactly what is on his mind without seeming to wonder how Jesus might receive it. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” he asks in response to Jesus’ words about being born from above. It is a good question! My favorite part about Nicodemus, however, is that he uses the verb know. “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God,” he begins. I enjoy that statement because Nicodemus is feeling pretty certain that he is figuring out who Jesus is. He could have adopted my personal motto: Frequently wrong but never in doubt.

I think part of what Jesus was doing in this conversation at night with Nicodemus was trying to unbind him from everything Nicodemus thought he knew about who Jesus was and what he was about. Perhaps that is why Jesus threw all kinds of metaphors and figurative language Nic’s way. He was attempting to loosen Nicodemus’s shackles of certainty. After all, if you are not curious because you think you have all the answers, you will probably miss the Holy doing something beautiful and unexpected. If you are not looking for God’s work in the world, it is highly unlikely you will spot it. And from what Jesus promises about the windy, wild work of the Spirit, I would hate to be so tied to what I think I “know” about the way that God works that I might miss being surprised.

Loving God, untie me from all I think I know about you. Give to me a fresh sense of curiosity and wonder. Surprise me with your joy and your love. Speak to me of mystery and mercy. I long to follow you this day. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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