“How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” John 3:4
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, most likely out of prudence because of his position and influence. He was an intelligent man, well educated in the Law of Moses and the Scriptures, and well respected in society. The question he posed to Jesus cannot be taken at face value, but it may help us to look more closely at the phrase “born anew (again)”.
The word anew (RSV) or, again (NABRE), the Greek word anôthen, has three meanings:
- from the beginning, completely radically;
- again, for a second time;
- from above, from God
All three of these definitions can be used for the word anôthen.
Taking into account Nicodemus’ background and education, we can surmise he was not being snarky, nor was he speaking in a literal sense; it was more likely a way of saying that what Jesus asks of us is impossible.
The fact that Nicodemus came to Jesus shows he was a man seeking the truth. And, in his vow as a Pharisee to obey the precepts of the Mosaic Law, he was all too aware of man’s incapacity to live perfectly in God. He understood that for man to be truly fulfilled, it was necessary to have a radical transformation/change in their person. He came to Jesus because he himself desired in his heart for this newness, yet his experience suggested to him that what Jesus was speaking of was impossible.
Nicodemus, like so many of us, faced a root problem for humanity: man wants to be changed, but cannot change himself. To be made a new creation, we can only come to God with our desire, and beg Him to change us. Let us grow in this desire to be made new first through our Baptism, but ever more so through a change of our hearts that make room for God to make us like Himself.
May God bless you.