Words for the Critically Priveledged


Changing ones perspective at  a very basic level can be hard for anyone.  But there is a special angle to that experience when a person has a privilege in perspective that is head and shoulders above those of their peers.  In someone is at the pinnacle of the physical sciences then the bias could be what is called scientism in knowing much of reality but confining that which can believed in to only what is totally quantified.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on post-modern theories that lack meaning of the human experience to what a person or group defines as true or good.  The disciplines go on and on and much of the time good can come from them as long as there is humility to keep asking the right questions after hefty and good answers.  Mankind, after all, is a thinking being and that is why we use the term homo sapien.  The term is about the genus that thinks and reaches toward what is good, true and beautiful often with words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order.

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14) and the first prism to view Jesus in his time would be theology.  Such a man that had qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodeumus.  He was a decision maker and one who could influence what was defined as truth and order among the Jewish leaders.  But one night he had  an encounter with a man who was both a rabbi and an ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and left him with a choice.  Likewise, I will point out here that those things can happen today for the inquirer with all of those traits but yet be take only so far.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and 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 and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, 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 answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15).

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Even better, Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of that first spiritual hunger when one hears the introductory basics of the gospel.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom that is anchored in heaven.  But to accept that good news one must transition from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one and thus a spiritual birth.  No spiritual birth, no spiritual citizenship.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  Make no mistake, this is the theological normative of baptism.  Some say that the water reference is just giving credit to the physical birth and amniotic fluid which was referred to by the early church fathers and ecclesial writer— absolutely never.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Rabbi Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says “baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity.

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit—  This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to be in full yield mode to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit.  This is like a childlike yielding of trust unto God.  An example is shown later with the apostle Paul.

It could be tempting to fight the implication that the call to discipleship under the power of the Holy Spirit could be that humbling.  With that, one may want to rationalize away this call saying that wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case.  Steve Ray covers this well in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  So, when we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the one word pneuma  (St. John’s Gospel, 2002).

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).

How can this happen?— Briefly I would say that Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit in his theological paradigm.  Jesus proceeds to challenge him to get over it.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40)

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to apprehend in faith or get the just.

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breaking, living and talking he offers something to the world that is incomparable.

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ and it is — as is.

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse in at least the Western Hemisphere.  It is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

This is a beautiful verse to now come to though likely now the words of John the apostle and not the words of Jesus yet rich in meaning in context of the chapter before and after it.  Before it we see in the set up that engaging with Jesus in the most freshest of Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, sacramental and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ.

But keep in mind what the “believe” part is in John 3:16.  In the Greek it is believing.  For salvation to happen in the kingdom there is a declaration of the righteousness of Christ, but the ongoing connection of that is in the context of onward holiness in grace and obedience.

And this brings me to how we are informed of the believe as ongoing and measurable in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, do you call yourself a Christian because you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid?  Great! —But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are hooked on a feeling and not walking by faith.

Many people out there think they have the right spiritual credentials about Jesus but too few have the connection that is of Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus.  The call to encounter all of us and our “spiritual privilege” still stands and that call is from Jesus.  He does not change but we do.  Our choice that is indicated whether we consider ourselves as a Nicodemus or not still is up to us on if we will follow Jesus unconditionally.


Rocking The House Part II

Washing Feet of Refugees

Recently Pope Francis left Lesbos bringing 14 Muslim refugees with him to live at the Vatican.  One of my favorite bloggers, Steve Ray, took exception to that since there were plenty of Christian refugees there too.  I would respectfully argue that Pope Francis did the right thing.  He acted in charity to his enemies like the Gospel tells us.  That action was a message and it should challenge us, like the style of Jesus to see that the coming of the kingdom of God is above our own presuppositions or agendas.

As a social worker, I have heard a lot about how the privileged of society should be aware of their blind spots.  Pop culture has a saying of, “Check your privilege!”.  There are have’s and have not’s based on any of many labels with a semi-caste system in society.  For those that have such power or are resentful they do not have enough, there can be contention either way.  The nature of sin in an individual or a group predisposes the human condition to be committed to a fight and basing it by the flesh.  In a zero-sum game of class warfare the assumption is that labels and their norms are the way they are and nothing natural can go agains that.

Insert me as the public relations person for Jesus in his inaugural speech in his ministry in his hometown of Nazareth.  With my bar graphs that happened with my fancy computer, I say that now is a good time to go if half of them are “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”.  Jesus has sown some seeds but there are some signs that this is a tough crowd.  Jesus stays on though he knew the hearts of all men.  He sits down which is a rabbinical posture.  If they thought he laid down the gauntlet before, guess again.  It gets much worse or much better depending what kind of heart that you had in Nazareth that day.  Or Anytown, USA.  Make no mistake, the gospel in its fulness is real and it is meant to be offensive.

He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.  They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away (Luke 4:23-29).

This is getting personal.  Jesus is speaking to a small, marginalized town under a marginalized nation under oppressive rule from an oppressive empire.  They had a bias to stay together, ruminate in the injustices they had suffered by the Gentiles and keep the status quo.  Jesus had just signaled to them the help was on the way from God and that included from oppression.  Surely revenge would soon be theirs.

It was to none of these…only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. …yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.— This is loaded with grace, but for their enemies?  Jesus loves everyone.  He had shared good news with them a few moments ago.  Now he dared say that there was mission for them too?

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury — The reviews went in minutes from 50/50 to 100/0.  The 50% that liked Jesus before liked his words, gracious words, as long as they were about their group.  But Jesus loved his hometown too much not to throw a stumbling block their way.  I remember that the definition of a bad sermon according to Abraham Lincoln is one that did not challenge one to action.  Jesus challenged them to love all of their neighbors and they snapped.  One can hope that when the more explicit nature of the gospel would be explained years later they would snap back.