Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’
… so must the Son of Man be lifted up …
So many of us spend so much of our time being blown and buffeted from one situation to another without necessarily understanding why. The circumstances and the shifting sands of daily life often leave us feeling stranded in situations that leave us confused and fearful. We want to know the reasons why but we struggle to grasp the truth because the truth entails a letting go of our human certainty. This is the situation that confronts Nicodemus when he meets with Jesus.
Nicodemus was a learned and respected man and, as a Pharisee, he was also an influential man. To achieve such status he must have studied scripture carefully and over a long period of time. Such learning, underpinned with so much respect, led Nicodemus down a path many others have trod: the very human path of believing we know all the answers. Changes in societal functioning and the nurturing of assertiveness leads many of us down the same path. The highly creditable doctrines of ‘independent learning’ are to be applauded, but they also need to be tempered with humility, the humility that empowers us to accept that we may have ‘got it wrong’.
As Jesus tries to bring Nicodemus, and us, to a greater understanding of God’s plan for his wondrous creation, he speaks of much that challenges our human certainty. We may feel that we are ‘in control’ of our own destinies, but how can that be so if we wish to follow the path of true discipleship? We may have studied much and we may have experienced much, but if we are true disciples we will understand, and accept, that it is the Holy Spirit who guides our feet and lights our path.
Jesus’ earthly life, along with the prophecies of life, death and resurrection, are models of how we should follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Son of Man must be lifted up can easily be seen as identifying the need for Christ to ascend to his place at God’s right hand. It is easy to grasp the notion of the indescribable power required by the one who is to bestow eternal life on all. But … we must not forget that there are other ways to be lifted up, including the brutal reality of the crucifixion.
Jesus had to travel a very difficult path before assuming his divine glory. So it can be with us. We must be ready for the Holy Spirit to lead us along dark and dangerous paths before we reach the destination intended for us.
Let us pray for the humility to set aside our human wisdom and pride, and follow the path God has laid for us.