“What springs from earth dissolves to earth again, and heaven-born things fly to their native seat.” – Marcus Aurelius
Does your place of birth affect your personality? Does it tell others something valuable or essential about who you are?
Most of us would answer this question, "Yes, of course it does." We often use a person's place of birth as a kind of tag, a handy label, which we can use to identify the way he thinks or the way she acts. We notice where a person was born, and we call her a native New Yorker, or we call him a native Californian.
Well, I believe that way of thinking is nonsense. Here's why. When I was born, my parents lived in Dorado, PR. Dorado is a small town and municipality in the northern coast of Puerto Rico, 15 miles west of San Juan and is located in the northern region of the island, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The town is highly regarded as a tourist destination with golf courses, hotels, and beaches.
I was not born in Dorado, my mom gave birth in a hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital. For some reason, my parents and friends teased me of being from Dorado, when I have no memory of living in the place. I was raised in Guaynabo, a municipality also on the northern part of Puerto Rico, located in the northern coast of the island, so I consider myself a native of Guaynabo.
I refuse to believe, maybe a little too stubbornly, that the mere place I was born has an effect on who I am. Now, the place I was raised sure has an effect. The way I was raised sure has an effect. Who my parents are may have an effect. But I regard the actual place of my birth as a kind of accident.
Jesus, I believe, might take this line of reasoning even further. He, too, was not born in his hometown; but he talked often about something far more serious. He talked about how one's spiritual birth is far more important than one's physical birth.
Kathryn Matthews Huey comments on a reflection on this verse: “Anyone who has watched a football game on television has seen a reference to one of the verses in this passage, perhaps the most-quoted verse in the New Testament, John 3:16. Unfortunately, for many, the words, "For God so loved the world…," rather than reassuring us of the depth of God's love for the world, impose instead what seems to be a requirement of intellectual assent ("belief") in order to "have eternal life," or, as we might say, to "be saved," which is also generally understood as "going to heaven after we die." That requirement, in effect, draws a line between the "saved" and the "unsaved," as if "salvation" could be so simple.”
What do seekers risk? Nicodemus was a seeker for truth and life. He was a man of position and status, living a secure life. Was he willing to risk all that? He was not sure, so he comes to Jesus hidden in the shadows of night. Jesus tells him he must be “born from above.” (John 3:3) (see Greek below) Also Jesus says to him that one must be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) He is here speaking of the water of the mother’s womb (not necessarily Baptism), and the Spirit of God. Both births are necessary. Our mothers give us life. Being born from above is being born of the Spirit, another kind of life. One is as important as the other. Birth from water of our earthly mother and birth from the heavenly Spirit are both necessary. Even the pagan Marcus Aurelius knew of such things; but Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, did not understand (John 3:10). The term “born again” is often used today. Being born again has come to characterize being theologically rigid, a fundamentalist, holding on for dear life. But being heaven-born involves living in gray paradox with a high tolerance for ambiguity, a letting go. One is stiff; the other is flexible. Only by the Spirit of God can we loosen up and fly to our true native seat. Only then can we risk getting off our other false seats. Nicodemus does eventually come around. After the death of Jesus, in broad daylight he assists Joseph of Arimathea in the burial. Now it is our turn.
Today we continue to hear Nicodemus phrased in similar ways all around us.
“How can there be a God?”
“How can you call yourself a Christian when you are not born again?”
“How can you claim that you believe the Bible literally?”
“How can you ignore what the Bible says?”
Together with Nicodemus we cry, “How can these things be?”
There is much talk of spirituality in our culture. “I am a spiritual person,” we hear friends tell us, “but I don’t believe in God, and I don’t go to church.” Others say, “I am a spiritual person, but I don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God.” And many other variations of this same theme, the vogue of vague spirituality.
Yet here is Jesus offering us someone visible and recognizable who embodies the Spirit of God, himself! And unless we take the plunge into the mystery of the incarnation, we, like Nicodemus, don’t understand, and reject him. “How can these things be?”
Maybe this Lent is the time for you to renew your identity as follower of Christ. Begin by being born again, born from above, in the Spirit. Let the spirit of Jesus come into your life in a new way today.
Let us pray. Grant, Lord God, to all who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, that as we have put away the old life of sin so we may be renewed in the spirit of our minds and live in righteousness and true holiness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-Rev. Dámaris E. Ortega