Once in Italy, a ninety-three-year-old man was hospitalized with an unforgiving disease. After courageously fighting for weeks, he was put on a respiratory machine and miraculously recovered after a short period of time. As he was about to be discharged, the hospital informed him that each day he had used the respiratory machine ended up costing him five thousand dollars. The old man seemingly became upset and began to weep. The staff at the hospital saw this weeping as despair and figured he would be unable to pay the bill; they suggested some financial resources that may come in handy to him. However, the old man responded by saying, “Money is not the issue for me, I am just marveling at how wonderful God is; He Who has never charged me money for all the days of my life that I’ve been so blessed to live; and now I am cured, physically whole again, a new person, reborn in body and spirit.”
In today’s Gospel reading, a Pharisee (who are known historically as being experts on Old Testament law) responded to Jesus Christ’s teaching that we must be born again in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Though Nicodemus thought that the Lord spoke of a second physical birth, Christ was speaking rather of a new life in Him. A spiritual birth through water and the Holy Spirit whereby we participate personally in the eternal life of God. Nicodemus was shocked because he had always thought of religion in terms of obeying laws, not in terms of becoming a new creation.
What led Nicodemus to believe in Christ and follow him? He had a respectable position among his own people as a Pharisee. But perhaps he sensed in Christ something completely new, something his soul had been longing for all along. In this strange Messiah, he unexpectedly found the God Who took the condemnation of the law upon Himself. He found a Father Who would offer His Own Son to death out of love for those who would be condemned by the law. He found a Lord Who would be slaughtered as the Passover Lamb and rise in glory for our salvation.
Nicodemus and today’s old man learned that Christ offers us more than we can imagine; the profound love of the Father Who gave His only-begotten Son, the great Mystery of the Eternal Word of God who became a Passover Lamb, became the basis of a new life for these former Pharisees; a new life that was worth being martyred for. A life that would warrant the facing of all kinds of problems we encounter in our world. As participants in the new creation, you and I have to actually live out this new life that Christ has brought to the world in our daily challenges. Every bit of who we are must become the stuff of a new creation and shine with the light of the new birth in our Lord.
The same love that is found in the gift of our salvation must become evident in our lives, must become characteristic of who we are as real living and breathing people especially during this challenging time. For to live as one born again through Christ is not merely to have a feeling or experience a one-time event; instead, it is the full-blown personal reality of sharing in His life, of participating in His salvation, of living as His faithful disciples each day in response to whatever challenges come our way. It is the joy of being part of a new creation, the New Adam, the Body of Christ. It is the blessing of life everlasting, of the salvation of God, which the resurrected Christ has brought into the world.
Of course, if this new life were about being perfect in the sense of never falling short, none of us would know anything about it because we all have room to grow in holiness. None of us fully manifests the righteousness of Christ; remember, however, that He came to save and heal, not to judge and condemn by a legal standard. So whatever progress we make in the Christian life is ultimately a sign of His mercy and blessing. When we hold our tongues when we are tempted to curse and condemn, when we struggle mightily to turn our attention away from unholy thoughts of any kind, when we pray for those who irritate us, and when we feebly turn our attention to God in prayer and at least make it to Liturgy with some regularity, we take small and real steps in opening our lives more fully to a deeper personal relationship with our Savior.
Moving forward, today, as a new creation, we find great hope in renewal of not only our spiritual sufferings but also mental and physical sufferings we face in light of this current pandemic. As hard as it may be to grasp, the story of God’s salvation of the world continues each day through you and me. In our darkest moments we must remember, that just because we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, does not mean it isn’t there. And we will emerge from that tunnel, from this pandemic, like the old man, realizing that each day of our lives has always been as precious a gift as the next. And that what we owe is not money for this priceless gift, but the taking on of the task of becoming new creations, trusting and praying and walking with God out of that tunnel, out of that darkness, into the light. Amen.