FROM ORIGIN TO DESTINY
This week we read about the encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus. According to John’s gospel, the Pharisee held high office and high esteem among his peers. He came to the Lord with an opinion now shared by many people, that Jesus and His teaching must come from God because of the signs He performed. The Lord shifted the conversation, however, from a statement of origin to one of destiny. Nicodemus may have believed Jesus came from God but now the Jewish leader was confronted by the question of the Kingdom. If he wanted to experience God’s reign, must he like the Lord come from God and be “born anew”?
How was this possible? Nicodemus gave an absurd, almost rhetorical question. How can a grown man re-enter his mother’s womb and experience birth again? Jesus answered not in physical terms but in terms of faith and lifestyle. A person was born anew when he entered the Christian community, when he was baptised in water and lived a life in the Spirit. Within the Church, the disciple led a new type of existence, preparing for the Kingdom. The Lord drew a clear line of separation between the non-believers (“born in the flesh”) and the believers (“born of the Spirit”). He ended by speaking of the disciple in metaphorical ways. People don’t know the origin or destination of the wind (a word that could also be translated “Spirit”); those outside the community just didn’t understand the mindset of the Christian, for the Spirit led the faithful in ways foreign to general culture.
Later we read of Jesus moving to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, followed by great crowds eager to hear His teaching. We hear about the famous multiplication of the loaves and fishes from John 6. “Where are we going to get enough food to feed all these people?” The task was not only daunting, it was impossible! Not even 200 days wages could even begin to solve the problem; all they possessed was five barley rolls and two small dried fish. Yet that was more than enough, for twelve baskets (a number meaning “fullness”) remained.
After this miracle, Jesus and His disciples went in different directions; Jesus escaped the crowd up the mountain (6:15), while the disciples returned to Capernaum by boat. A night storm arose on the lake which tossed the disciples about as they furiously rowed towards safety. Suddenly, they saw Jesus walking on the water and were afraid. (The image echoed Job 9:8: God alone stretches out the heavens, and treads on the waves of the sea). Then He announced “I AM. Do not be afraid.” This statement proclaimed the divinity of the Lord – in other words, God is here, be at peace. When he climbed aboard, they reached their destination.
The miracle of Walking on the Water appears in three gospels: Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21. While differing in detail, each mentions the storm, Jesus’ place on the water, His declaration of divinity (“I AM”) and His command (“don’t be afraid” or “have courage”) and His entering the boat. Scholars have debated the symbolic nature of this passage for centuries but, thematically, the story related crisis (storm on the lake), epiphany (appearance and identity of the Lord) and union with the divine (His entry onto the boat).
Don’t our lives sometimes follow the same pattern? Have you ever had a time of crisis, followed by the peace of God’s presence?
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