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. Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” -John 3:-9
Every Thursday, he attends the 5 o’clock mass at the Cathedral. We don’t know his name but he has become a very familiar figure. Our interactions were very limited. He would come up to us and shake our hands and say that we are doing a great job. It was always the same except for last week. He was in the mood for a chat. I have to admit that I was a little weary. I thought that we were going to hear a long drawn-out discourse about doing God’s work. We have been subjected several times to this by well-meaning street preachers who seem to enjoy preaching to the choir. However, this man wasn’t a street preacher. He was just a pilgrim. He had just come from giving out food to the homeless. He said that he does this twice a week. The food, he said, is just an excuse to show love and affection to the homeless. He was brief. He just wanted to say that it was great to share God’s love with the needy. Then, something made him hesitate for a moment. As if to correct himself he added, “We also need the love that they share with us.” Then he shook our hands and left and we sat there pondering about what he had said.
The word, “need”, adds a radical perspective to everything. Serving the poor and the homeless, the widows and all the forgotten and lost people is no longer an activity we do when we have the time. It becomes something necessary for us to discover God’s love. It might sound a little uncomfortable for some ears. It sounds like we need to do something to earn our salvation. Well, it is not about earning but reaping the full benefits of our salvation. We never may know the joy of salvation if we restrict it a special set of doctrines or membership to a community. Salvation is the freedom to perceive and receive God’s love freely.
The quote above is from a dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. The latter couldn’t fathom what it means to be born again. Perhaps he was trying to reconcile two incompatible worlds; the new Creation that Jesus was presenting and his old ideas of reality. The gospel tell us that he was a pharisee. This is a clue to understanding this man’s dilemma. Pharisees in Jesus’ time were spiritually diligent people. They kept all the laws and they took pains to keep themselves pure. It would be wrong to think that they were all hypocrites. Most of them were like Nicodemus who was a genuine and sincere person. Unfortunately, all his knowledge and religiosity could not help him grasp what it means to be born again. Maybe he did not want to be born again. It would mean giving up everything that he knew. He would have preferred if Jesus presented him with set of doctrines or spiritual exercises. These things were easy to comprehend. Jesus almost did nothing to help this poor man out of his conundrum. Instead, Jesus just kept saying that he needed to be born again. Nicodemus had a problem. He was trying to put new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22). St Paul, another Pharisee, had the same problem until he met the Lord. However, he understood immediately that in order to be born again, you have to be willing to forget your past. It was a deliberate action not to reconcile things from his past which would limit the present way God was acting in his life.
“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead”- Philippians 3:13
I would like to digress for a moment and say that I am not in any way advocating the misguided notion that we should disregard everything from the past. There is much wisdom from the past that helps us understand the newness of what the Spirit of God is doing in our midst. Jesus uses the wind to describe the movement of the Holy Spirit and it is a concept from the Old Testament. The word for Spirit of God is “ruah” which can also mean wind.
The wind blows where it desires. No one domesticate the wind. We can feel its effects and we can protect ourselves from it. However, we cannot control it. We can try but it will always overpower us. God moves where he desires. He is present where He sees fit. Being born again, it realizing that no one has the power or the right to demand how and when God should work. It is also admitting to ourselves that God has no obligation to our needs or interests. He moves to fulfill His will in this world. He invites us to be part of His movement. It requires us to be willing to receive His love even in the most unlikely situations or people.
One of the boys asked us what we did on the weekends. We told them that we spent our time reading and sometimes we would go for a short walk. He was shocked to hear that we don’t watch TV or play video games. For the children, reading was a boring activity. Then he turned around and told the others that they should ask us to come on the weekends to spend time with them in the streets. He said, “Poor Mary and Stephen have nothing to do but read on the weekend. At least here, they won’t be so lonely.” We thought what he said was humorous and at the same time, it revealed something profound. The children did not see our relationship as a one way traffic. They believed that they were giving something to us as well. They did not know what they were giving but they could see that we receive something from them. This knowledge empowered them. They felt that their presence in our lives was meaningful, so much so that whenever we are away from them they believe that we are forced to engage in boring activities like reading. They are right (not about reading). We receive something from them. We see God’s love for us through them. Wherever God’s love is present, there is joy and significance.
Nicodemus was trapped in his world of doctrines and rituals. None of these are essentially wrong. Jesus never said that they were wrong. Sometimes they can help us see and understand God’s presence in this world. However, if they restrict our understand of God’s actions and love, then we need to follow Paul’s example and choose to forget them. Being born again is being freed to receive God’s love whenever it is present. Sometimes it is in the darkest places and God’s grace will open our eyes and hearts to see His eternal Love alive in these places. Our nameless friend is not a theologian. He is just a simple man who discovered God’s love among the needy and forgotten. Now, he goes back to serve them because he knows God is waiting for him among them. Incidentally, he gives out food in one of the most dangerous places in the city. Yet, it is God’s love that shines brightly for him in this place and not the fear of danger that is associated with it.
The wind blows whenever it pleases….the Spirit brought us to these children to discover. I believe that He has a special place for each one of us to discover the joy of our salvation.