... and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
–Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus John 3:1-17
I’m not sure we give Nicodemus enough credit. So much is made of his meeting Jesus in the dark of night, hidden from the crowds and his own people. Yet, everything about his demeanor suggests that he was not afraid to be seen with Jesus. Even more, his willingness to engage Jesus with questions shows that he held him in high regard and was sincerely interested in learning more about Jesus and his teachings.
Nicodemus presses Jesus and even respectfully debates him: “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” he asks. “Can one enter a second time in the mother’s womb and be born?” Now, here again, while Nicodemus is smart enough to realize that Jesus is speaking metaphorically, he wants to know what Jesus means. Are we not all products of the lives we have lived? Are we not shaped by our repeated experiences, are we not formed by our educations and our works? Can all of this be swept aside by the “blowing of the wind?” Can we become un-formed, in order to be re-formed by the Spirit of God? All of these are reasonable questions that we might ask if we were Nicodemus.
Jesus says we must be born of the Spirit who will bear us, when we are born again into the realm of God. So it’s reasonable to assume that there is some pain involved in our transformation. How much of the old do we take with us when we are born again? And, if we are born of the Spirit, don’t we get the sense that we do not escort ourselves into God’s realm on our own? It’s reasonable to assume that we are unable to “bear” ourselves in rebirth. We cannot do it on our own. There must be another force at work, another force entirely. Only the Spirit can usher us from this world of fixed realities to God’s realm of new possibilities.
Of course Nicodemus is right: we cannot ever go back and enter our mother’s wombs a second time. Our mothers cannot be prevailed upon to bear us twice—although my mother often said she wished she could; I might get it right the second time! So how do we begin our “gestation” and re-birthing process? If we bear some of the responsibility of our renewal, what part do we play?