August 26, 2012
ORDINARY 21 (B)
Master, to whom shall we go? – John 6: 68
A wealthy & influential Pharisee named Nicodemus came to Jesus by night & said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him”. Jesus answered, “Amen, Amen I say to you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”
For our spiritual journey into eternal life, physical birth is not enough. A second birth is needed. Until we experience it, we remain incomplete & unfulfilled. Unlike our first birth, this one is voluntary. We had nothing to say about whether or not we were to come into this world. We have everything to say about whether or not we are to be born anew.
What does it mean to be “born from above”? There are various interpretations, but fundamentally it means a radical change in life: a turnabout, a new beginning. St. Paul, of course, is a classic example of someone who had a dramatic & sudden conversion experience, & even now it is so with some people. But ordinarily, it comes to us in undramatic yet perfectly authentic ways. Often we are hard put to pin it down to a specific time & place. But we get to a point in life where we can look back realize that we have changed radically, that a new spirit has entered into our life, that we are different from the person we once were.
Still, what sort of change takes place? What happens? Again & again Jesus tells us that we know the turnaround has come when we find ourselves in a whole new world where God is at the center, where He becomes real to us – the most real & important thing in our life. Our Lord is talking about a conviction that everything in our life – our marriage, our parenthood, our work, our leisure, our hopes for the future – must be rooted in God’s loving presence.
When we are born anew, when we open ourselves up to the divine love within us, we begin to learn the lessons of love. The authentic experience of the loving presence of God within us is what makes it possible for us to live authentically. It may be we’ve been coming to church for years, hearing about God & talking about God, but has He ever been really alive to us – a living presence? Jesus is saying that before we can come alive to the meaning of our own presence in this world, we must come alive to God’s presence.
The glory of God can be seen in the beauty of things outside ourselves. God does reveal Himself in tiny, elusive moonbeams & majestic mountains, in calm breezes & stormy seas, in tender refrains & resounding symphonies, in graceful swans & clumsy elephants. But unless we are born from above, we will never know the joy of eternal life. The experience of afterlife is shrouded in mystery. The experience of eternal life in Christ is available here & now to those who are willing to let themselves be embraced by it.
Over the great front doors of a church building under restoration was the sign, “This is the gate of heaven.” Immediately below it was a temporary sign which read, “Use other entrance.” How wonderfully symbolic! We don’t step into the Kingdom of God through the front door of a building. We must use the other entrance, which, in New Testament language, is the doorway of our heart.
In today’s Gospel, after Jesus had preached to a multitude in Capernaum, we are told that “many of His disciples returned to their former way of life & no longer accompanied Him.” Jesus then said to the twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answered Him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. Jesus tells us we must be born from above. Hearing this, do we also wish to go away? The choice is ours, & it is clear: mere existence or eternal life in Christ. AMEN!