Several years ago I went on a trip to Puerto Vallarta with friends. One of the activities I looked forward to was fishing in the ocean. When that day came, I took a bus into town and walked down the beach until I found a secluded spot on a pile of lava rocks that jutted about 75 yards into the bay. As I walked on the sharp-edged rocks I was thankful for my water shoes. When I found my spot, I could see fish of all sizes and of every color in the water around me. But, after several hours, I got skunked. Not even one nibble.
As I started to walk back along the rocks to the beach, I heard the unmistakable roar of a wave bearing down on me from behind. Just as I turned to see if I had enough time to brace myself, the wave crushed me, scraping me along the rocks, which felt like a full-body massage via cheese grater.
The wave receded and took me out into the bay. I was out of breath, bleeding head to toe and stinging everywhere as the salt water made its way into the hundreds of tiny cuts in my skin. As I began to swim towards the beach, I heard the roar again and for the second time I’m scraped on the rocks, then back into the bay. This time I was scared. Not to mention in pain, out of breath and on the verge of panic. Treading water, I thought it was entirely possible that I wouldn’t last through a third or a fourth wave. And, if the angle of the wave changed just slightly, I could be slung headfirst into the rocks instead of on top of them…
As the third wave came I couldn’t think of anything else to do so I clung on to the rocks with all my energy. Suddenly, I could fee the warmth of the sun on my back as I lay spread eagled on the rocks. When I stood up, I was a bloody mess and looked and felt like I had been through a meat grinder. A week later I had surgery to remove 53 sea urchin splines from my hands and arms. The doctors even missed one.
Some of you have had your own close calls.
In the Gospel text, Nicodemus asks, “Can one be born again?” and Jesus responds, “You must be born from above.” In this way, Jesus tells Nicodemus that only God is the giver of life.
As their discussion continues, they ask questions of each other and suddenly, they are learning from each other.
Put yourselves in Nicodemus’ shoes for a moment… What questions would you ask if you were sitting with Jesus? What questions would he ask of you?
In the Gospels, how many questions in total would you guess were asked of Jesus? The answer is 307. Of those 307, Jesus directly answers only 3. How many questions does Jesus ask of others? 135. For every question that Jesus directly answers, he asks 45.
In response to the three questions Nicodemus asks TO Jesus, he receives two questions FROM Jesus. But, Jesus doesn’t ask questions because he needs the answers; he uses questions to peel back the onion layers and to reach new levels of understanding about the person he is with.
When Nicodemus asks, “How can all these things be?” Jesus essentially responds, “What do you think?”
By asking more questions than he answers, Jesus invites us to think more deeply—in the context of relationship—about our questions about him, about God and about the world. Together with those inside and outside these beautiful walls we look for what the example of Jesus’ life is teaching us.
This is the theme for Lent and for our lives: Looking inside ourselves, and then extending our hands to deepen our connection to others and thus deepening our relationship with God.
Both self-reflection and reaching out take some amount of courage. Because people change, looking either internally or externally, we never quite know exactly what we will find. This is why sharing our personal stories is important. Peeling back the layers, we expose the profound experiences that shaped us. And when we create a space for others to do the same we liberate each other and ourselves from that which holds us captive.
For the next few minutes I would like to invite you to get to know two FCC young adults a little better. The three of us are going to have a short conversation about the Gospel text through their eyes. Diane Hahn and Salomón Garcia, please come on up. By the way, they have no idea what I am going to ask them, this is not a scripted discussion.
7-10 MINUTE DISCUSSION
- Diane, in the text, Nicodemus approaches Jesus and says, “We know you are a teacher sent by God.” As a public school teacher yourself, what did this question mean to you?
- Salomón, what does the theme of rebirth and being reborn mean to you?
- Did either of you feel tension or feel uncomfortable with the scripture?
- Nicodemus approaches Jesus with intentionality. What brings you to faith and spirituality?
- Another theme of the conversation is Jesus asking Nicodemus to examine what he thinks and believes in the contest of what he already learned and heard about Jesus. How do your beliefs about God inform your lives and relationships?
Please thank Diane and Salomón!
Reaching out and sharing ourselves isn’t easy, especially in front of a group, but some find this less stressful. This prompted me to wonder about what type of personality Jesus might have had. So I gave Jesus the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Here are some of the questions I answered on his behalf.
- You often feel as if you have to justify yourself to other people
- Your travel plans are usually well thought out
- An interesting book or a video game is often better than a social event
- You try to respond to your e-mails as soon as possible and cannot stand a messy inbox
- You enjoy going to social events that involve dress-up or role-play activities
The test showed that Jesus is Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Prospecting and Assertive or an INFP-A, meaning that he is caring, loyal, a person who values inner harmony and personal growth and he focuses on dreams and possibilities. This gives us one more small insight about him.
What additional insight about you will you share with someone today?
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is intimate, revealing and profound. But it only occurs when Nicodemus makes a special effort—he intentionally approaches Jesus.
That word, intentionality, should be familiar to you since Jane used it last week. Along with intentionality, there are some other words and phrases that you might remember from recent homilies: risking human vulnerability, get closer, and this week, it’s GO DEEPER. If we become more vulnerable with each other, we go deeper in our relationships, with each other and thus with God.