Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3, NRSV)
Due to external forces and some bad decisions, I don’t remember a lot of my childhood. Concussions have sapped my gray brain matter of the right neuron connections and chemical secretions to allow that possibility. In fact, I honestly believe most of my “memories” of my childhood actually come from the photographs my mother diligently kept bound in albums.
But if we all go back far enough, the memories stop coming. For some like me, it’s later in life where we get snippets and for others, they can remember their toddler years. I haven’t found too many people who can remember what it was like to be a baby, though. There’s something about our development into more mature humans which prevents our brains from recalling what it was like to be an infant or even in the womb.
We cannot remember making the decision to be born because we didn’t make it. We do not choose to be born, it just happens to us.
That’s what stuck in my mind this week about what the author of John tells us Jesus said: we must be reborn in order to see what Jesus sees. Whether it is born from above, anew, or again (all valid translations of the greek word anothen), we must be reborn and move from one ending into a new beginning.
The problem is there have been some Christians who have turned this passing phrase of Jesus into a litmus test to sort out those who are in and those who are out, who has arrived and who hasn’t. Those who are “in” are those who are “born again.” This happened in puritan New England where in order to be a member of the church (and thus a citizen) you must prove you had a born again experience or conversion. The groups are set up between in and out, and of course those in power are always in the “in” group. Instead of seeing the rebirth in Christ as a beginning, it is turned into the end.
But to be born again allows us to see God’s realm. Our understandings of who is in and who is out are changed because our eyes see the world (kosmos) with Jesus’ eyes. Gail O’Day says that anothen is the beginning point, not the endpoint, of growth with God.
Lent is like that too because we didn’t choose for it to come, it just did. God calls us to this time or introspection and repentance so we might be prepared for the end. It is a time to be reborn. It is a time to begin again. It is a time to return to the Lord. It is a time to put one way of living away and take on God’s way. It is a time to begin again living as if God’s Kingdom really is here on earth.