04 February 2013

Encountering Jesus - When I just can't figure it out?

   Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 
     Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 
     Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 
     “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3.1-21)

The first week back to class this semester, I gave my 7th graders a very challenging math assignment. We worked on those twenty-one problems all week in class and then I had them finish the assignment as homework homework over the weekend. I'd used this assignment before; this time, however, I had several comments and complaints - not just from students, but also parents frustrated with the level of algebra required to solve several of the problems. They felt it was simply way too difficult for their math level. 

I disagreed, because the actual math required to solve the problems was not difficult if you approached them as riddles, looking for the single, specific clue. Most, however, wanted a formula. They wanted variables neatly given and easily identifiable, obviously to be plugged directly into some sort of equation or system of equations that they could then solve.

Truly, you could arrive at the correct solution that way. And that did require an understanding of algebra and an ability to manipulate of variables far beyond the ability of most of that group of 7th graders, not to mention the potential for mistakes or careless mathematical errors. I mean, I'm the teacher - I actually did take several college level math courses, and I was hard-pressed to solve the problems using that strategy. I could see  the equations I needed to set up and begin solving for the variables, but I'd get bogged down as I plugged through the math...

The crazy thing with this particular assignment? I'd ask the kids questions to get them thinking about the problem, to try and narrow their focus to a couple of key details, to help them see that most important detail. With some of the  students, that was all it took. The light switch flipped and they were off and running towards the correct answer. Others needed to be shown that most important and very specific bit of information before they were able to begin successfully working toward the solution. A few needed a picture or diagram drawn to really understand how and why that piece of information was relevant. But once the key detail was clear, students thought about it for a few seconds... or minutes... and looked at the whole picture of what the problem was asking, most were able to arrive at the correct response.

The Pharisees were notorious for their "formulas." They had a carefully prescribed, very detailed and complicated system all worked out to earn righteousness. I wonder if Nicodemus was all caught up trying to solve life's great challenges... life's greatest challenge... by following these formulas - yet the answers he found never satisfied and he knew he was still missing something key, the real answer that made sense and settled in inquietude in his heart. 

Nicodemus didn't even need to verbalize the question; Jesus knew.

Jesus immediately points out that key piece: It's not additional rules or different rules. It IS being born a second time - born again to a new life in the Spirit, a life found only in the light of Christ. There isn't a specific, detailed formula to follow requiring all sorts of manipulations for matriculation. That was the Pharisaical system and it didn't work. It left people confused, dissatisfied and incomplete - always wondering if they'd done enough... and they knew it. So they'd try to work more frantically, become more exclusive... and ultimately more frustrated.

Eventually, some (just like my students with that math assignment) simply stop trying and give up. They get angry and fuss about unfairness. They complain that what is required is just too hard. Nicodemus knew this frustration - but I don't think he was willing to stop wrestling. He knew that the stakes were too high.

Nicodemus sought out Jesus. He knew he needed an encounter with this unfathomable man and teacher. 

Jesus gave Nicodemus the key or the clue he was missing, but it didn't make sense, at least not at first.

The Biblical text is never totally clear as to Nicodemus' response. I have a feeling, though, that he finally got it. He is mentioned with Joseph of Arimathea as one of two who retrieved the body of Christ from the cross and laid him in the tomb... 

What do you think? How do you encounter Jesus as you read this section of John 3?

Do you ever get tired of reading this story in the Bible? 
Do you ever find yourself struggling to understand it?

How do you apply these words, not simply to a moment in time, 
but to daily life with Christ?

For what it's worth? These chameleon photos really have nothing to do with the theme of this post.
I just thought they were really cool, and have been wanting to post them for awhile. 
We snapped these photos one morning when Tim came home from dropping the kids at school,
and found Butterscotch (one of our dogs) worrying the reptile.
He was one mad and scared saurian.
He was one  furiously angry lizard!
That's why he is so black/blue in these photos.
We rescued him by shoving him high into a tree. 
this week's gratitude list
(#'s 3557 - 3571)

good news about a health question - from a friend at home

another week, no incidents

a super long Sunday afternoon nap after an exhausting week

great birthday party on Saturday

homemade orange sherbet

much needed conversations in regards to a student at school

more sorting and listing and decluttering accomplished

my comfort with French and the culture here - otherwise all the police checks would be terrifying and I'd simply never leave the house

really yummy ragout made by Tim for Sunday dinner

Saturday night bingo with the dorm... and a game of banana-grams, too

Elsie Mae continues to move forward with her reading

doctor helping us work through M&M's mysterious, recurring fevers

Brendan's focusing his plans for the future

finding some decent Western style clothing - that hasn't been "niger-ezed" yet - warm enough for our vacation in Scotland this summer

listening to Tim skype with our nieces back home

Ten most recent posts in this series:

Click here for all titles and their corresponding links in the Encountering Jesus series.

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