Dear Parish Faithful,
As was hoped for, we had something of an “extraordinary” Bible Study yesterday evening both quantitatively and qualitatively. We had quite a “turn out” for the third session of our study of that extraordinary book – The Gospel According to St. John. The discussion was lively, the many shared questions and insights were helpful to all; and the fellowship was enjoyable. May it so continue!
Our attention was focused on the Dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus as recorded in JN. 3. It is here that Jesus tells Nicodemus – and us through him – that one must be “born from above” or “born again” of “water and the Spirit” to be able to enter the Kingdom of God. (v. 3-5). These words proved to be enigmatic for Nicodemus and he struggled to understand what Jesus was revealing to him. Basically, Jesus was speaking on two levels, the level of the flesh and the level of the spirit. Every human being that “is born of the flesh is flesh.” With these words, Jesus acknowledges what we can call the biological level of our existence. Yet Jesus also says “and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). Jesus thus reveals that we are not meant to exist on only the biological level; but that through the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit, we have a spiritual nature that brings us into direct communion with God. This is a “second birth” or perhaps “rebirth” that is alluded to under the expression “born from above/again.” This rebirth happens through the Mystery/Sacrament of Baptism, described here, once again, as being “born of water and the Spirit.” We are in danger of perishing without this rebirth and the faith in Christ that is presupposes. This dialogue with Nicodemus is directly related to what was revealed in the Prologue to the Gospel, when St. John the Evangelist wrote:
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (JN. 1:12-13)
The presence of the Spirit is as mysterious and uncontainable as the wind (in Hebrew and Gk., the same word means both “wind” and “spirit”). As Jesus said:
“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” (v. 8)
As is characteristic of the discourses in this Gospel, at a certain point Nicodemus seems to disappear, and Jesus is alone with an extended monologue that is filled with divine revelation. At this point we hear the well-known “JN. 3:16,” a verse that summarizes the entire Gospel as it summarizes the divine purpose for the world and its salvation:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God did not abandon the world that He created “in the beginning” when sin entered the realm of human consciousness and we, as human beings, deviated from the path that God had set before us. His love for the world – kosmos - remained steadfast and true, and according to God’s own design that love was eventually expressed when the only-begotten Son of God became flesh as our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. This giving extends even unto the Cross, whereon the Son of Man is “lifted up” for our salvation. To reinforce the purpose of the Incarnation as a movement toward salvation – and not judgment/condemnation - we hear further:
"For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (v. 17)
To place oneself outside of the light because one prefers “deeds” that are evil, is to condemn oneself. The question remains: Do we love darkness or do we love the light? Our eternal destiny is in the balance. How we respond to that question theoretically and practically, is of the essence, as the saying goes. Christ came to bring us the light, but we are not compelled to make that choice. Yet to make that choice is to embrace truth:
“But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (v. 21)
This is a brief taste of what we are studying and discussing together in our Bible Study. Please continue with your presence, or join us as we proceed further and deeper into this most extraordinary of books – The Gospel According to St. John.