Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities, offers a wonderful reflection on this third chapter of John’s gospel – the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus – in his book, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. Vanier begins with this thought, “The Gospel of John introduces a question that is pertinent for us all. We all need security, and yet to be fully alive we also need to take risks. Too much security stifles us, while too much insecurity brings fear and anguish. How can we plan for the future and yet be open to the unforeseen?”
This is a tension in life is it not? On one side the need for certitude and control and on the other side an insecurity that only brings fear and anguish. Are these the only two ways that are available to us?
John says that Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews”. He is a man of authority in his time, probably a religious leader, and while he comes to Jesus “by night” (probably because the religious leadership was beginning to murmur about Jesus) he still questions Jesus as one who is certain in his own authority. Nicodemus is a secure man. He knows his world, apparently he has done well and achieved in it and he is well respected and is aware of this. Yet, something about Jesus calls Nicodemus out into the “night” – out of his own security and certainty.
Jesus wants to show Nicodemus that there is another way other than a security that isolates and stifles and an insecurity that it is ultimately unbearable to the human psyche. It is the way of trust. Vanier writes, “Jesus proposes another way: the way of ‘not knowing,’ of being born from ‘above.’ That means becoming like a child again, a child of God, a new person, listening to the Spirit of God and letting ourselves be guided by the Spirit.” All that a child can offer is trust; trust in the love and the care of the parent. This is the “other way” that our Lord invites Nicodemus to walk and that our Lord invites us to walk. This is what it means to be “born anew”! We do not have to become isolated in our security nor do we have to get lost in the anguish of insecurity. We can walk the way of trust, confident in the love of God and guided by the Spirit! This is the way that can see us through the dark of night. God is at work! God has a plan! God is intimately involved in the movement of our world and even of our very lives! We are not alone!
How do we get to this trust? How can we be “born anew”? It is interesting to note that in today’s gospel (Jn. 3:14-21) it is only after Jesus speaks of the “Son of Man (being) lifted up” that he then goes on to speak of how God so loves the world and how the Son has come not to condemn but to save. The Gospel message reveals that salvation has been won through Christ, that we are saved through the blood of the Lamb and that light has overcome darkness but it also reveals how God chooses to act and work. God acts humbly. God acts in love. We would do well to note this!
To be “born anew”, to learn the way of trust, means we must stand before the mystery of the Cross and we must learn to live the mystery of the Cross in our own lives – to act humbly, to act in love, to be guided by the Spirit.
There is another way, another way other than a security that isolates and an insecurity that brings anguish. It is the way of trust and by it alone can one be born anew!