Readings for the day (2nd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 12, 2017):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If you were to go on a road trip, how would you do it? Would you carefully plan out your route with a detailed itinerary? Or would you just jump in the car and drive off somewhere with no real idea on how you would get to your destination? If you’re anything like me, you would want to have your route carefully mapped out, knowing where you’re going, how many miles you will drive, and roughly how long it would take to get there. With knowing our path, we have a sense of control over where we go and how long it will take us to get there.
In life it’s nice to have a sense of control over our lives. Some things in life we do have control over: we get to choose what we do, where we eat, who we associate with. We are free to choose our career path, our friends, our spouse, where we live. By getting a choice, we have a sense that with us in control we can see what is coming and thereby have the ability to maneuver through the changes of life as they happen.
But in reality we don’t have control over everything do we. We can’t change other people. We can’t control the markets. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control our family challenges. We certainly can’t control the political polarization. We can’t even control our own finitude. With all of these things in our lives that we can’t control, we begin to lose heart. We feel powerless and hopeless. Any crisis or conflict in our own lives veils who we are and veils our vision; how we see the world.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a powerful Jewish leader, comes to visit Jesus in the darkness of the night. He can’t visit during the day when the sun is out because he might be noticed seeking advice from this carpenter from Galilee. Nicodemus would be seen as weak, as powerless, rather than strong and knowledgeable. And yet, he is curious enough, weighing the risk, he takes a chance, stepping out, making himself vulnerable in order to find out more about who this Jesus fellow is. Jesus tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” This confuses Nicodemus as he thinks that Jesus is talking about having a second earthly birth. Nicodemus’ vision is veiled. He can’t understand how one is born from above. He keeps trying to following a path and a vision that he is familiar with and knows. Except all he knows is simple human biology which tells us that we cannot have two earthly births. The path that we know and are familiar with is comforting, giving us a sense of control.
Of course we like having a sense of control in our lives, but when our vision is veiled, making it challenging to see clearly – how much control do we really have? When life is going well, going the way we would like it to go, the family is mostly happy and our stress level is low-ish, then we get the sense that we are the ones in control of our lives. Which is a comforting feeling to know that we have control. But when crisis hits and the family isn’t happy, our stress levels are out of control, and we conflict seems to be surrounding us, then our vision becomes veiled, not being able to see past the crisis. We become unable to see the bigger picture.
Nicodemus thought that he had things figured out, but then he started listening to Jesus’ teachings and just got more and more confused. His stress level was probably increasing as conflict continued to grow among the Pharisees. He could no longer see past the conflict. Today is no different, actually it might be worse. People are so quick to jump to their own conclusions without fully understanding what is going on or what the big picture is. But when a perceived crisis comes to mind, our whole vision becomes veiled and we can’t get past the crisis. And when we can’t get past the crisis with our vision veiled, we are left feeling confused and helpless.
You know, maybe that is what drove Nicodemus to sneak out one night to find Jesus in the first place and ask his burning questions, because he felt helpless and confused. Now when Nicodemus does confront Jesus in the darkness, He could have just blown Nicodemus off. He could have just said, “No, I’m not talking to you. I’m not acknowledging you. You’re a Pharisee and you guys are causing lots of problems for me. So just go away.” Jesus could have also tried to negotiate with Nicodemus a little, saying, “So, you’ve got some questions do you. Well let me see here, I would like for you get the rest of the Pharisees off my back.” The problem with negotiating though is that you put power back into someone else’s hand. “I’ll love you if…” A conditional form of love that puts the person you’re going to love in control.
Instead, Jesus answers all of Nicodemus’ questions (maybe not the way he was hoping for, but they were answered). And most importantly, Jesus offers to Nicodemus unconditional love. Love that gives him no control and makes him completely powerless, that the only thing Nicodemus can do is to accept this love knowing full well that with God loving the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life, completely removes him from the equation. Nicodemus wasn’t looking to be saved on that night; he just wanted some questions answered.
When you think about it, you never asked God to send his Son to die for you. You never even asked Jesus if He was willing to hang on the cross for you. He just went and died for you without you asking for it. This puts God in control and makes you powerless. He never asked your opinion on the matter. And for those who like being in control of what’s going on and where you’re headed, this can be a terrifying thing because this means that we must completely put our trust in someone who just makes decisions without consulting us.
And this is exactly what true unconditional love looks like. God loving you and the whole world so much that he willingly gave up his only Son, being lifted up on a cross, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish in an eternal death, but may have eternal life with God. Indeed, he did not send his Son into the world to condemn us for sins, but in order that we might be saved through him.
Our freedom of choice in this world appears to be where our freedom lies, but in all actuality our true freedom lies in this unconditional love where without your consent, Jesus willingly died and rose for you, claimed you through the waters of baptism so that Jesus who is the light of the world could shine light on your path, removing the veil, allowing you to see clearly.
We don’t always know what lies ahead for us, but with Jesus in control we can trust that He can see where we are going, with the all-powerful by our side. Amen.
© 2017 Anthony Christoffels. All Rights Reserved.