Now that Holy Week and Easter Week are over, we begin a more or less continuous reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St. John. We begin with the fourth chapter of the Acts and the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel.
Nicodemus appears in the Gospel reading for today. St. John uses Nicodemus to portray a man who gradually comes to faith in Jesus. Their first encounter takes place in the dead of night. As a member of the Sanhedrin and a prominent Pharisee, he is concerned about being seen in Jesus’ company. So he goes to him at night. As we read the rest of the Gospel, it will become obvious that encounters in the dark are encounters of unbelief while those that take place during the day are encounters that result in faith. This first encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus does not go so well. Nicodemus simply doesn’t understand what Jesus is talking about when he speaks of the need to be reborn.
Yesterday’s Gospel story of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples gathered behind locked doors is an example of rebirth. Jesus breathes on them. Through this action, he imparts the Holy Spirit. St. John harks back to the second chapter of the Book of Genesis as he records that meeting: Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7) By imparting the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, Jesus recreates them; they are reborn.
Most of us have been asked the question: “Are you a born again Christian?” The question is usually posed by an evangelical or Protestant Christian. When these other sects of Christianity broke away from the Catholic Church, they also lost many of the seven sacraments. While they still celebrate Baptism and the Eucharist, they do not regard confirmation, holy orders, matrimony, penance or anointing as sacraments. Many evangelicals do not practice infant baptism. So their understanding of being “born again” is different from our own. Whenever we encounter the Holy Spirit, either in the sacraments or in prayer, we embrace the new life of the Holy Spirit and are born again. So the answer to the question is that although we understand being "born again" in slightly different terms, we are indeed "born again."
Gradually, Nicodemus will come to faith in Jesus. We will meet him two other times in the Gospel of St. John. As I said earlier, each time we meet him in the Gospel, we will meet a man who is gradually coming to faith in Jesus. This is, after all, as was also mentioned in yesterday’s Gospel, St. John’s purpose: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator