I appreciate people who are willing to listen and who are willing to keep an open mind about things, especially things that matter. All of us can get into trouble when we think we are done learning or done exploring life and its issues. Even things that seem simple are anything but. We can find ourselves in trouble when we think we have all the answers. I found this to be true back in my days as a chemical dependency nurse. So many of our patients were sent to us by the courts; and when they would get to us, they often were defensive, claiming that we didn’t know anything about them, and that all of this fuss was just a big mistake, that they knew what they needed to do to get their job back. Unfortunately for them, unless they opened their minds and their hearts to new information, to a new way of being in the world, nothing was going to change for them, and they eventually found themselves in more trouble; and for some, that trouble would mean death. It is so sad to watch someone kill themselves with drugs and alcohol when it was perfectly avoidable. But pride and other sins of the heart can sneak in and make everything a mess. We have a saying in AA… there is no problem that alcohol can’t make worse.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This quote from scripture is much beloved by many Christians; and it does seem to encapsulate the Gospel of Jesus in a few words. Signs at football games and other places that simply say “John 3:16” are popular ways that some try to carry the message of Jesus to the rest of the world. It is so difficult in these days of instant information and instant access to just about everything to slow down and talk to each other about things that matter. We get so concerned about time rushing by us we sometimes miss the opportunities that are right in front of us. We are always trying to fit in more stuff on our calendars that nothing is given the time and attention it deserves.
What I love about today’s reading is that Nicodemus comes to Jesus to learn more; he believes what he has seen and heard about Jesus, but he wants to know more. He takes a risk and goes to see Jesus and ask him about his teaching. He comes in the dark, when he won’t be seen; I’m sure he is already aware of the tension in the leadership that exists because of Jesus, but yet he comes to ask and to learn. And like all of us, Nicodemus misunderstands; after all, everything he thought he knew about God is being challenged in the life of Jesus. There’s a lot riding on his questions and on Jesus’ answers.
Jesus says a lot to Nicodemus that he has trouble with; I admire his willingness to continue to press on. I am sure that he left Jesus that night with more questions than answers; and honestly, that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it is those who are most sure of themselves that perhaps need to take a few steps back and rethink what it is they think they know.
Jesus is telling Nicodemus that it is the love of God that saves humanity. Law is important, but it can only go so far in helping us with our relationship to God; afterall, if WE were capable of securing our own salvation, we wouldn’t need Jesus, or God or the Spirit or any of it, really. And for some who believe themselves to be good and right and proper… Well, perhaps we should all take a breath and listen to what Jesus says here; God so loved the world… It seems pretty clear to me that our salvation is a gift that is given rather than a right that is earned. Over and over again scripture tells us that God is love, and it is a love that cannot be earned, it’s not something that is deserved. We cannot do anything ourselves to win that love. It’s free, it’s a gift; and yet most of us forget that on occasion. Our culture is so sure of itself; everywhere we turn we are told that there are more and better things ahead for those who work hard to achieve. The kingdom of God isn’t based on our achievements. Rather than ladders to climb, it’s level ground where none of us get more than any other, but we all get an extravagant amount of Godly love; so much love that we are sometimes absolutely speechless and unable to understand what is happening. I like Nicodemus’ response to hearing Jesus… “How can these things be?” They can only be in the very life and love of God who gave himself in the life of the son, not so that the world would be condemned… but that the world would be saved because God so loved it.
As we move through this season of self reflection, I wonder what each of us needs to stop believing about the love of God? I wonder how each of us might grow closer to Jesus knowing that his love is freely poured out on all of us? I pray as we grow closer to him, we might all love him, our neighbors and ourselves just a little more today.