After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: "Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah." For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
Why this tumult among nations,
among peoples this useless murmuring?
They arise, the kings of the earth,
princes plot against the Lord
and his Anointed.
'Come, let us break their fetters,
come, let us cast off their yoke.' (R./)
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord is laughing them to scorn.
Then he will speak in his anger,
his rage will strike them with terror.
'It is I who have set up my king on Zion,
my holy mountain.' (R./)
I will announce the decree of the Lord:
The Lord said to me 'You are my Son.
It is I who have begotten you this day.
Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations,
put the ends of the earth in your possession.
With a rod of iron you will break them,
shatter them like a potter's jar.' (R./)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"
Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above." The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
When and where the Spirit will guide us, cannot be determined ahead of time. As Jesus said, “The wind blows where it will… You do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” The Hebrew ruah and its Greek equivalent pneuma mean both wind and spirit. Even people who have experienced the guidance of the divine Spirit cannot determine where the Spirit will lead in the future.
In today’s gospel, as again in Acts chapter 10, the Spirit comes unexpectedly, without warning. In fact, the sudden gift of the Holy Spirit to Cornelius the Roman centurion took St Peter by surprise. The apostle exclaims: “What can stop these people from being baptized?” Peter is willing to face the consequences of baptizing those Romans, without asking them to undergo circumcision. He thus anticipated Saint Paul in opening the doors of the Church to pagans, or Gentiles.
John presents Nicodemus as seeking the truth in a literal-minded way, so that at first he finds Jesus’ spiritual statements hard to fathom. He resists the Lord’s talk about re-birth. “How can a man be born again once he is old? Can he return to his mother’s womb?” Despite such resistance the Holy Spirit can bring one to a new birth. By the gift of the Spirit we begin to live a new quality of life. Our responses to friends, our ideals and scale of values, all aspects of our life will look different, if we welcome the Spirit’s inspiration.
What the Holy Spirit achieves in us is a spiritual not a physical rebirth. We do not re-enter our mother’s womb. Rather an inner change takes place which activates our hidden potential and sharpens what had become dull and boring, to make us what we are meant to be, “salt of the earth.”
Nicodemus came to Jesus in secret, by night. He was a Pharisee, one of a group consistently opposed Jesus. This Pharisee was exceptional in letting himself be drawn to the Gospel. His first approach was tentative, coming to visit Jesus under cover of darkness. His final appearance in John’s gospel is open and public, when along with Joseph of Arimathea he ensures that Jesus gets a dignified burial.
The Nicodemus story invites us to make progress in our relationship with Jesus. Even if we are lukewarm at times, we can grow more committed as life moves on. But spiritual growth does not come by will-power alone; it is ultimately the work of the Spirit in our hearts. We need to be Spirit-born to enter the kingdom of God. As a sailboat needs the wind, we need the Spirit to fill our sails for the voyage of life. This Easter is a good time to again invite the Holy Spirit to be our guide in life.