[Diocesan Metropolitan of Thrissur Diocese, Malankara Orthodox Church]


Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [John 3:1-12]

The discourse of our Lord Jesus Christ with Nicodemus in the referred scripture portion exposes the dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity. This is a common theme of all the four Gospels and even of the early Church. [Matt. 5:17 f.] Nicodemus stands as a representative of his religion, Judaism. Of course, that had been the religion of Jesus too. But, while Jesus represented the continued transformation that God schedule for this world, on one side; Nicodemus represented a static religion, on the other side. Consequently, there is a conflict between the Old, which is incessantly old and the New, which is continuously being renewed. So the verse in the close of the referred passage should be comprehended as the foremost. Subsequently, Jewish religion of Nicodemus with its static status has become symbol of ‘worldly’ and Jesus that of the ‘heavenly’.

The Gospel witness that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. St. John, the Evangelist is very good in making use of symbols out of time and place. Nicodemus preferred to come at night because he represented a community that was in darkness. In this regard, we may recall the state that existed before the creation. Darkness was upon the face of the earth [Gen. 1:1]. That was a time when God had not commenced the creation project of human ecosystem. It was also a time of chaos [along with the uncontrolled water covering the face of the earth] and hence rather a time ripe [in the fullness of time – Luke. 2:6] for God to work. The same darkness has taken over the whole religion of Judaism. Through the incarnation of Jesus, God initiated to conceive a new identity in it.

It was great that Nicodemus came to Jesus for this personal converse, which would be of great use to us. As he saw the works and miracles done by Jesus, Nicodemus was ready to accept Him as someone came from God. However, the problem was that there were many great men of the past who were sent by God and had done wondrous things. Nicodemus calls Christ Rabbi, which signifies that he too agreed with the other Jews who considered Jesus as one among those great people of the Old Testament. As Jesus well exhibited the scholarly skills of a learned person, Jews very well asserted Him as a teacher or Rabi. But Jesus was not happy to see that His own religion was not ready to take things forward and see the ‘signs’ and interpret them on the basis of the message in their scripture and accept Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus knew himself that He is not just a Rabi. So He took Nicodemus further and put a challenge before him to reveal that just being a Jew will not make one eligible to enter into the Kingdom of God.

The word ‘anew’ appraises the insufficiency of the existing state of affair. It should be observed that it solicits for a 'born anew' rather than a 'born again' and an absolute or complete renewal is demanded. It is the same person, but continuously and thoroughly being renewed or regenerated. The subsequent question raised by Nicodemus exposed the insufficiency of Jewish religion in which he himself was a teacher. However, Jesus further detained him by probing before He revealed about his inadequacy [3:10]. A very good element in Nicodemus was that he was a sensible inquisitive man to continue the dialogue, instead of being adamant on the exhaustibility of his religion. As an act of zeal and forwardness, Nicodemus continued in his place, and did what he could with hope to examine with Jesus about his concerns of his own soul and its salvation. The sad fact was that even then he was not ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Eventually, Jesus told him about the inevitable concerning the necessity and nature of regeneration.

There had already been a purification rite of baptism in Judaism. There was the baptism of John too. A large number of Jews considered the Baptist John as a man sent by God. In the same line, they considered Jesus also as a man came from God. But they had to go one step further to receive the baptism of spirit. Two things are to be noted in this regard. Firstly, pertaining to the Kingdom of God, the renewed state itself is also an invitation to enter into the Kingdom of God. Secondly, Jesus himself is the Kingdom of God, because he is not simply one from God, rather He is God. This great truth of the indispensable necessity and mystery of regeneration and baptism of the Spirit could not be conceived by Nicodemus or Jews whom he represented. As John the Baptist preached them, no purification act of Jews was sufficient to make people eligible to enter into the Kingdom of God. [Matt. 3:11] Further to his contention, it was reopened and explained exhaustively by our Lord Jesus in further verses from 6. Because this doctrine was unintelligible to Nicodemus notwithstanding the elucidation, the nature of this regenerating work of the Spirit was demonstrated by Jesus weighing it against the blow of wind whose source and destination is mysterious.

It is more imperative to know how the 'new' is related with the 'old' rather than to know where it comes from or where it goes to. As far as Jews are concerned Jesus was the son of Mary and he cannot have any supernatural wisdom than any other human and he ends up maximum as a man sent by God as any other prophet in the history of Judaism. The essential lies in the faith that Jesus was someone beyond the normal ‘teacher from God'. Secondly, anyone born anew emulates Jesus Himself. As per the Orthodox liturgy for the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism, towards the close of the ceremony, the celebrant calls and considers the newly baptized one as a brother/sister as he/she is also made eligible to share the Holy Spirit with Jesus.

When we ponder on with these thoughts, two questions should arise in our mind; "Nicodemus represented an incessantly static religion when he confronted with Jesus: what kind of a religion we are representing when we approach Jesus with our supplications? How we respond to the demand of Jesus to be born anew which calls for perpetually renewing and regenerating?"

Firstly, when we review the nature of our representation before Jesus; Are we not representing our own self, rather than our family, Church or the small or big community to which we belongs? We tender our worries and our needs, eventually, our prayers end up as mere supplication. Though, as such it is not a sin, but to do that alone cause to taste a selfishness and hence become a sin. During the Holy Qurbana the celebrating priest pray in one of the ‘Sedros’[Solemn Eucharistic prayers]; ‘I beseech you Oh Lord, pardon and forgiveness for the whole creation’. The phrase ‘whole creation’ is to be taken special note of. Only when we represent the whole creation or in the limited circle, our neighbor, we can come before our Lord meaningfully. As the state of 'born anew' is relevant only in the fellowship with our brothers, we should represent a mini-universe around us. The collective expression made by prophet Isaiah in his prayer at the temple, corroborates this understanding. "Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.' [Isaiah 6:5] Also in the Husoyo prayer [Plea For Forgiveness] of the priest, the early fathers had written; ‘pardon oh, Lord, my many, great and countless sins and the sins of all your faithful people’. As Cain did not care for his brother, the newness of life was lost for him and for the host of people followed him. Nicodemus represented a community that had exclusive claims and was proud of its heritage, scriptures and law codes, keeping themselves in darkness. Seclusion from the rest of the world creates darkness, darkness creates lack of newness and lack of newness forbids entry into Kingdom of God.

Secondly, we should evaluate the attributes of our own community. What kind of a community do we have? We are a community, which is proud of its St. Thomas heritage, its great liturgical and theological traditions, its great fathers and its rich culture. But when newness is missing, none of these would hold of any value. This is to be taken very seriously. Eastern Orthodoxy and many other Episcopal Churches comprehend the statement of Jesus about the ‘born anew of water and spirit’ apropos to the sacrament of baptism in the Church. The renewal and regeneration related to Baptism should not be considered as a one-time or an erstwhile event. It is an enduring and continuous process that is initiated in the act of washing in water and anointing by Holy Oil. Initiation alone would become meaningless if the process is not ongoing and continuing. This is where we have almost proved to be one like Nicodemus’ community. The very words ‘change’ or ‘new’ creates lot of restlessness and anxiety in us. The great prophet Isaiah says, ‘God creates a new heaven and a new earth’ [65:17]. Again the author of the book of Revelations says, ‘Jesus makes everything new’ [21:5]. Are we new or old? Is our community a constantly being renewed community or static one? To find an answer we may just ask our children how we are to them. They represent a new generation. How is our worship service to them? How is our community structure to them? Many times we misinterpret the term Orthodox and say things in our community can never be changed. Well, that is what people of the Jewish community also argued. With a static community, entry into the Kingdom becomes impossible according to Jesus [if His sayings are authentic enough for us]. Jesus was not talking to Nicodemus alone. He spoke that to Nicodemus once. But now He is exhorting us same thing every day. Do anyone are listening to it?

As we read in the Bible, every act of salvation is an act of a new creation which well endorses the ‘born anew’ in its true meaning. Before every act of salvation in the Old Testament we can see the presence of either darkness [creation of woman, flight from Egypt etc.] or water [Noah, crossing of Nile, crossing of Jordan etc.]. This philosophy is very well appropriate in the New Testament too. The act of salvation in Jesus commenced with the passing through the water in Jordan. At the climax, which is the crucifixion, we see darkness too. Look at the world around us, at our community. Do we see troubles, problems, unrest, in-fight and other symbols of darkness and chaos in here? So we are prompted to consider our time whether it is ripe for being ‘born anew’?. We need to come to the presence of Jesus Christ. Ask Him questions, how can it happen to us? How can we do it? Do not be adamant saying what we have is enough and what we are now is adequate. If we do not turn out to be 'born anew', we virtually skip off the Kingdom of God. Can we afford to loose the Kingdom of God?

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