It’s a Metaphor, Nicodemus!
“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!'” – John 3:3-4 (NRSV)
Literal thinkers drive me crazy. Apparently they drove Jesus crazy too. And thus ends any and all similarity between Jesus Christ and myself.
Because Jesus patiently stuck with the man who was questioning him about eternal life, even when he had missed all the mystery in Jesus’ answer.
I would have been irritated if, after laying out this beautiful image of being born again, some lawyer then informed me that it was technically impossible for an adult to climb back up into their mother’s womb. I would not have had the patience to explain myself again. “For crying out loud,” I would have sighed as I threw my hands up in frustration, “It’s a METAPHOR, Nicodemus!”
But Jesus hung in there with the guy. Jesus stuck to his image, and then expanded it slightly, saying, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Two thousand years later, I don’t think Jesus is too happy that some Christians took that beautiful metaphor and used it to demand that people get “rebaptized the right way.” Jesus can’t be happy to hear this verse used to condemn Jews and people of other faiths. After all, Jesus was having this conversation with a fellow Jew, and it was a respectful interchange about new life and being born again.
I wonder if in that moment, Jesus actually predicted the future misuse of his words. Because later in the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus is careful to say this: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Less condemnation, more salvation. It’s a metaphor, Nicodemus. Not a weapon.
Thank you, Jesus, for the mystery of metaphors, the promise of new life, and the gift of rebirth for us all. Amen.
Lillian Daniel’s new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.