Friday, January 22, 2021

Nicodemus Comes To Jesus At Night (John 3:1-15)

 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, because it's not a popular thing among the leadership to see Jesus. Some mix of curiosity and flattery causes Nicodemus to say that he knows Jesus is a teacher who came from God. Jesus takes this as an invitation to teach them something, then. That "truly, truly" is a way to say that something with authority is coming next, something new that hasn't been heard before.

Jesus says we have to be born anew, or born from above, depending on the translation. That reminds us of what we read earlier in John 1:11-13. Drawing near to God in Jesus has nothing to do with where you come from, or who your parents are.

Nicodemus doesn't get it. He doesn't realize Jesus is speaking spiritually here, and so he asks, "how can a man go back into his mother's womb to be born again?" What Jesus does say reminds us that we can't please God by our own efforts; the Holy Spirit must give us the power to do what God asks of us. The reference to "water and the Spirit" is a reference to baptism, in which sins are forgiven, and the person baptized is given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who indwells him or her.

The wind blows where it wants to, and so it is with the Spirit, Jesus says. In fact, the Hebrew word for "spirit" also means "wind." Nicodemus still doesn't get it, which surprises Jesus, since Nicodemus is supposed to be one of the great teachers of Israel. But in fairness, God has a new thing going on. Jesus also says in so many words that he came down from heaven, and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so he also must be lifted up. By that he means the cross. In context, (Numbers 21:8) Moses made the serpent as God commanded, and those who looked at it were cured of the poison from the snake bites. Therefore, believing in Jesus is the way to be saved from the poison and the sickness of sin, and to be rescued from death.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Jesus Cleanses The Temple (John 2:13-25)

 This part of the text tells us that the Passover was at hand. Exodus 12 is the Bible chapter dealing with the Passover as an event, and the Passover as a memorial meal, to remember that event. That final plague against the Egyptians was terrible, taking all the firstborn sons and animals of the Egyptians. The Israelites were safe, because they had followed the instructions given by the Lord. Passover is still celebrated today, because Exodus 12:14 commands the people to observe it forever.

So what's the big deal? Why is Jesus so upset that people are selling things in the Temple area? There are a couple of reasons. Most religious traditions in the world recognize a difference between sacred things, and ordinary things. "Sacred" refers to something set apart for a holy purpose. The Temple was sacred, and people were treating it like the lobby of a Wal-Mart. Secondly, according to the rules the people were given for worship, the outer court of the Temple was reserved for non-Israelites to gather to worship and pray. They were not allowed to go into the inner places of the Temple, where the children of Jacob would go, and certainly not into the very most important sacred places, where only the high priest and other priests could go. But they had a right to hear the word of God to them, and you can't even hear it, if people are selling things in the place where you're supposed to be.

It is also worth pointing out that a ritual cleansing was something that a priest would do, before making a sacrifice. Hold that in your mind, for the rest of this Gospel, if you can.

The quotation in verse 17 is from Psalm 69:9, and if you read the entire Psalm, I think it is fair to say that it's about Jesus, whether it's suffering he endured, or mockery, or persecution. And the psalmist is trying to say that he only wants to bring the mercy of God to everyone, and that is exactly what he was doing, and why others were angry. Sometimes it happens that religious people want to keep the things of God for themselves, like a symbol or a token, rather than share them with the people who need to hear about God's love.

It's a good idea that if you see a quotation in the New Testament from somewhere in the Old Testament, you should assume that the writer intended you to read maybe even the entire chapter, and not just the quotation. If you make it a point to do that, everything Jesus does and says makes a lot more sense.

They get into a discussion here about the Temple, because Jesus says if the leaders destroy it, that he will rebuild it in three days. This obviously sounds crazy, because they note that Herod didn't finish his finishing touches for 46 years.

Jesus is speaking spiritually here, and St. John eventually tells us that he was speaking of his body as the Temple. Even to say that is pretty thought-provoking, because the ordinary person would think of the Temple as the place where God dwells. In that way, Jesus is talking about his Incarnation, as God in human flesh.

St. John gives us a little preview of the resurrection of Jesus. He won't stay dead, but will rise again. Some skeptics and scholars claim that because St. John was sort of interpreting his own book right here, by telling us what it means, that some guys made it up later. That explanation doesn't really hold water, because St. John lived for a long time, and if he had been making up things about Jesus, the Church would have called it out really fast. But the early Church was absolutely united and unanimous in the belief that Jesus was God, and that he rose again from the dead, after his death on the cross.

John gives us a little note here at the end, to say that Jesus gained some popularity, after these miracles and sayings. We should be able to say that Jesus is at least as smart as we are--and much more--because even we know not to be too impressed with people who spend a lot of time telling us how great we are. Chances are, they're up to something.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Jesus And The Disciples At A Wedding At Cana (John 2:1-12)

 Weddings in this time and place were big social events. Distant family, neighbors, and friends were all expected to come. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph may well have been related somehow to the couple.

Also in this time, the wedding celebration lasted about a week. This culture was even more an "honor-shame" culture than our own. It would have been a huge social embarrassment for the family to run out of food or wine. So Mary steps in. It's awfully hard for any decent son to say no to his mother, especially when she recognizes the problem, and knows Jesus can help.

Why does Jesus answer the way he does? Isn't he speaking harshly to his own mother? No; Jesus does know, however, that when he does this miracle, attention and opposition will be drawn to him. Jesus is concerned that everything will begin to happen sooner than it ought to. In the end, I suppose Jesus understood from the Father that he could do this, without disrupting the Father's plan.

Also, there is a spiritual mystery in Jesus addressing his mother as, "woman". In the same way that Adam had a partner in Eve, Jesus has a partner in his mother Mary. St. Paul will tell us later that Jesus is the new Adam (see Romans 5). Like the new Adam, the new Eve succeeds where the old Eve failed.

One other bit of background explains why Jesus answers the way he does. In the Old Testament, wine was a symbol of God's generosity and favor. Jesus is saying that it's not quite time to celebrate yet. It will be, but not yet. Even so, Jesus does the miracle.