Rebirth and Birth

The gospel for yesterday and today combine to cover John 3:1-15, the encounter of Jesus and Nicodemus. In the passage, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born anothen, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” As is characteristic of John’s gospel, it is in the subtly of words that people are offered a choice. Popularly, Bibles translate the passage as “unless one is born again.” And indeed that is an acceptable translation, but not the primary or best if being true to the text. The best translation is “unless one is born from above.” It not only takes the primary meaning of the word anothen, but also ties into the “direction” of the references in the passage:

  • a teacher who has come from God
  • born of water and Spirit
  • The wind blows where it wills
  • heavenly things
  • gone up to heaven
  • down from heaven
  • lifted up

In the Catholic tradition, we take that the entry to life from above, or being “born from above” is the Sacrament of Baptism in which the same Spirit is given, the Spirit, the divine wind that hovered over the water of creation and brought forth life.

But having said all of that, the Catholic tradition recognizes that Baptism is also an act of “being born again.” Where in natural birth the child is born into the family of humankind, in Baptism, the child is born again into the family of God. It is an act of faith of the parents that is the ground of this “rebirth.” The same faith, trust, and love that brought the child into the world are the same that bring the child to the waters of Baptism.

Faith, trust, and love have a lot to do with birth and rebirth.

Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, now grown old has always wanted a child together with his wife, Elizabeth. Luke 1 describes the “annunciation” of that long awaited event when an angle of the Lord announces the good news to Zechariah. But Zechariah doubts (Luke 1:18) and is rendered unable to speak (v.20). But God’s will be done, the child is born, and upon the encounter with his new born, Zechariah speaks in faith, uttering the “Canticle of Zechariah” (vv. 67-79) – also known as the Benedictus, because of its opening words, “Blessed be the Lord.” At the birth of his son, Zechariah is reborn, born again; doubt became faith.

This past Sunday’s gospel includes the encounter of the Apostle Thomas with Jesus. Without rehearsing the encounter in detail, Thomas is born again in his encounter with Jesus: doubt became faith.

And in Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus doubts in his misunderstanding. He is not born again or from above. But he is eventually born again, born from above. When? Scripture is silent, but we again meet Nicodemus at the death and burial of Jesus: “Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night” (John 19:39). He had been born again; doubt became faith somewhere between the night encounter with Jesus and the death on the cross.

We could ask each of these people what was the most important day of their life. I suspect each would point to the day the were born from above, were born again in faith, trust and love – their encounter that was the turning point. Life is filled with great, wonderful and important days, birthdays being one of them. I suspect that if I asked you “What was the day you were born?” you’d respond by telling me your birthday.  I suspect that if I asked you the day you were born from above, very few would respond with the date of their Baptism.

So…what is the date of your Baptism?

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