Now there was man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Judaioi. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for nobody can do the signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered him,”Amen, amen, I tell you, that unless someone is born anew, he cannot see God’s Rule.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a human being be born anew when he is old? Can he go back into his mother’s womb a second time, and be born?”
Jesus anawered, “Amen, amen, I tell you that unless someone is born from water and the Spirit, he cannot go into God’s Rule.What is born from the flesh is flesh and what is born from the Spirit is spirit. So do not be astonished that I told you: you must be born anew. The wind blows where it wills and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. That’s how it is with everyone who is born from the Spirit.”
Nicodemus answered, “How can that be possible?”
The reader of the Gospel has been made aware that Jesus is bringing God’s creative wisdom into the world. This was identified as the life of the Spirit into which human beings can be baptised. It is also the life of the one who will be slaughtered as Lamb of God. This the life that Jesus shares with his Father, but also with his disciples, a new life which is has the taste and colour of the best wine, easily providing more than the Judaism which has preceded it. Jesus the humane ruler replaces Jacob’s ladder as the place of contact between heaven and earth. Indeed he is the new temple, a dwelling place of God which cannot be destroyed.
Chapter 3 provides a closer look at rhe nature of the new life offered by Jesus. Again there is a contrast with the religion of Jesus’ people, this time in the shape of the Pharisee Nicodemus., who comes to Jesus out of the darkness which symbolises the life of those who do not accept God’s light. From the perspective of his own religion he offers what he thinks is a generous assessment of Jesus as a man of God. Jesus cuts the feet from him with a blunt assertion that God’s Rule demands a complete rebirth. Certainly this new birth involves the water of baptism in which a person recognises that he is not part of God’s people but wants to be. That would be shocking enough to a pious Pharisee, but the idea of rebirth itself would have seemed pagan to him. After all human beings are created in the likeness of God; what need is there for rebirth?
Jesus insists that mere humanity, even Jewish humanity, is not sufficient. Once it was, but now the messiah is here, God’s Rule has begun and God’s own life is offered to human beings. The stark dichotomies of this Gospel stem from this new offer. Flesh is not denigrated in itself, but only in comparison with the Spirit which is the shared life of God. Human beings can choose to enclose rhemslves in in mere flesh, to remain one dimensional, but this choice brings darkness, and separation from the divine dimension of light and truth.
Jesus does not define this dimension other than by calling it Spirit; indeed it cannot be defined, only accepted or rejected. You cannot say in advance all it will mean for your life, as it is a reckless acceptance of the very wisdom of God, incarnate in Jesus. It is to abandon yourself to God’s goodness. Who can tell where it may lead?
No wonder Nico is cautious.