Day 295 – Words with Double Meanings

Today’s reading: John 3:1-21

Besides containing the verse most cited at football games John chapter 3 is an excellent example of how Jesus taught by getting people to think in new ways.  There are at least three times in the chapter were Jesus does this.

First, is when Jesus speaks of being born.

Jesus answered 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? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Jn 3:3-5

However, most translations don’t do justice to what is happening here.  In Greek, the words “from above” and “again” are the same.  Thus, in my bible, Jesus question is, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God”.  Nicodemus’ full answer is, “How can a man once grown old be born again?”  So if understood that way, Jesus is saying something spiritual but Nicodemus is hearing something earthly and physical.  This makes Jesus’ answer fit a little better when he replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  In effect, Jesus is saying to use the spiritual translation of the word.

Jesus does this again just a few verses later when he says:

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jn 3:7-8

Here the words for “wind” and “spirit” are the same.  Of course, Jesus is contrasting the two rather than likening them to each other.  The entire episode must have been a little frustrating for Nicodemus.  The idea that the Jesus speaks in riddles certainly must have crossed his mind.  Many times in the gospels we read that people were amazed at the way Jesus spoke.  Here we get a taste of that.  Jesus is using words with multiple meanings to push the listener into active listening and interpretation of what they are being told.  In doing so he is making his statements unforgettable.

The third time is when Jesus speaks of his crucifixion.  He says:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jn 3:14-15

Recall that Moses healed the Israelites in the desert when he was instructed to make a symbol of a serpent on a stick.  Here the word for “lifted up” is the same as for “glorified”.  Here the words of Jesus would have probably immediately provoked the image of crucifixion to Nicodemus.  The idea that this might be a glorification was probably the furthest thing from his mind.  However, Nicodemus returns later at the crucifixion to assist with the burial of Jesus.  Thus it seems that Jesus way of thinking slowly made an impression on him.

Tomorrow: John 3:22-36

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