What does being born again really mean?
Maybe Nicodemus knew all along – maybe he was just playing dumb. Jesus says “You’re a teacher of Israel, and you don’t know what I’m talking about?”
Some commentators note the terminology was quite current in post-exilic Judaism and that a “leader of Israel” would certainly be familiar with the terminology Jesus was using. The problem seems as though it was not one of understanding, but volition. Nicodemus did not want to leave the womb of familiarity, respectability and status to go on the risky road of fulfilment with Jesus. The Spirit had led him to this place of readiness for rebirth, but Nicodemus is baulking – he is not ready.
Fair enough – being born can be a long drawn out process for both the birther and the birthed. It doesn’t always go smoothy and is inevitably downright messy. And then there’s the whole process that lies ahead on the journey to maturation – feeding, changing, weaning – indeed many stages of development before one is even walking. This being “born again” business is not for the faint-hearted. Who would want to go through this whole journey from infancy to adulthood over again? No wonder Nicodemus baulks.
The literary devices in John’s gospel employ key characters as representatives of humanity in general. Nicodemus is us, and this is evident in the way Jesus’ particular address to Nicodemus morph’s to a more general address to all hearers. It’s difficult to discern where in the text this actually happens, except in the original language where the singular form of “you” becomes plural (verse 11). In this almost kaleidoscopic shift we are suddenly where Nicodemus is – we understand the question, but do we really want to risk the changes that such understanding implies?
A good Lent question for on the road to Jerusalem and Easter!