Wind Blows As It Chooses
o two people encounter Jesus exactly the same. Seekers have come to him during the last two millenniums from every background carrying all kinds of baggage. There are many similarities in our paths. We have all come seeking to fill some inner feeling of void. When we were physically hungry for food we ate. When we were lonely there were friends. Yet, our longing for relationship with God could not be filled. So, we have come to this one who claimed to be the very Son of God.
There is an unusual juxtaposing of contrasting characters in today's and next week's gospel lections, Nicodemus in today's Lent 2 story, and the Samaritan woman next week (Jn. 4: 5-42). They may be intended as paradigms that would reach into the hearts of future readers of John's gospel. First, while Nicodemus is a representative of the highest socio-economic and religious order, the poor woman at the well is both a lowly Samaritan and a shunned woman who had five former husbands and was avoided by neighbors because of what was considered her sin. Is it intentional that we have an outcast contrasted with a representative of the highest class?
Jesus discusses deeper spiritual/theological realities with both characters and neither seems to catch on at first; however, it is the lowly woman who does begin to discuss a complicated set of issues on the hot button subject of worship between Jews and Samaritans. Nicodemus, the scholar, seems to actually be unable to follow Jesus' metaphorical logic; whereas, the supposedly simple woman blesses us all with her spiritual quickness and insight. Thus, the recurring theme of the simple confounding the wise; a reminder needed by contemporary would-be intellectuals. I am drawn to the metaphorical imagery that we hear the wind blowing but still do not know exactly where it comes from or goes. "The wind (Ruah/Spirit) blows where it chooses." (v.8). Today's Doppler Radar is still not absolutely sure.
Nicodemus comes by cover of darkness, seemingly afraid, while the woman randomly encounters Jesus at noon, in broad daylight for all Sychar to see. Nicodemus leaves confused, saying, "How can these things be?" (v.9), whereas the woman abandons her water jar and goes to witness to all that she has met the long-expected Messiah. Nicodemus remains a secret disciple and the woman becomes a chief spokesperson.
It appears that Nicodemus did later accept Jesus as the Messiah (7:50). He assisted in finding a tomb for Jesus, and spent a large amount to purchase burial spices (19:39). Thus, we may assume that Nicodemus is an archetype of coming to faith gradually, perhaps through a process of reasoning over time. Whereas, the heroic figure of the "Woman at the Well" is an example of immediate faith.
It seems to me that most folks reading these stories over the succeeding centuries could have found some point of identity with one or the other of these representative characters. We have all known people who have had to mull things over in their minds; sometimes for years. Others are able to jump right in, following their emotional subjective feelings. We of course could delve into personality types: Nicodemus would certainly be a "Type B," waiting and thinking quietly. Our formerly sinful woman represents "Type A" folks who are ready to hop on board as soon as their heartstrings are touched. I think we can see in these contrasting individuals the contemporary reality that we can not expect everyone to come to faith in exactly the same pattern.
Bishop Nolan Harmon used the insightful illustration in a seminary classroom of a ship that sails from the cold waters of the Arctic Sea to the warm waters of the Caribbean. The gradual change of temperature does not denote one specific moment when they went from the cold to the hot, but they can surely know if they are in the hot water by simply letting down a bucket and feeling the temperature of the water. Likewise, we can know when we are in ice cold faith or tepid halfhearted faith, or in hot, vibrant faith, by feeling the temperature of our souls. The point of the beloved bishop's illustration was that it doesn't matter so much how or when we came to faith in Christ, as long as we came somehow, and are in the hot water now.
I have long been intrigued with the many encounters that individuals had with Jesus in the four gospels, but have just recently seen the correlation of two of my favorites. I appreciate folks who, like Nicodemus, think things through logically over a period of time. His many years of rabbinical education almost required him to move forward slowly. After all, it was as if he were accepting a totally different frame of references. I am reminded of the intellectual struggle of Professor Stephen Hawking who, despite his intellectual and moral problems has maintained a relationship with God that is evident in his new book, which I am struggling to read, The Universe in a Nutshell.
I recently met a native of India, the son of a Hindu, who was converted to Christianity under the ministry of another one of my former professors, Dr. Marvin Harper. I have thought long and hard about how difficult a choice that must have been for him, so steeped in his native culture and family connections, to make such a total break with his past. Yet, that was something of the decision that Nicodemus weighed so carefully. Is it any wonder that he seemed hesitant and defensive, in his nighttime encounter with Jesus?
I personally came to faith more like the Samaritan woman. I had rebelled against my religious training and had led a rebellious life as a fraternity boy in the 1960s. If you have seen the movie "Animal House," you have a picture of me as the John Belushi character. As a child I often sat at the dinner table with the great evangelists that my dad used to have at his churches to preach those long two-week revivals, but I turned it away. I knew a lot about what I disbelieved. Then one rainy Sunday afternoon, alone in my dorm room the Wind blew my way. It was as if Jesus had walked right into my heart. I think my encounter was as vivid as that of our heroine.
Our experiences have been different from each other yet we have all known it when we felt the wind of the Spirit. We appreciate each other as friends in Christ because of who we are and enjoy the stories we tell of how we were in our own way gathered into the family of God. We are a mix of folks who have been blown together by the Wind into one common friendship in Christ.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor