Sunday 16th March 2014
Genesis 12:1-4a and John 3:1-17
The phrase “scientia potentia est” (Knowledge is power) is an apt aphorism for our time. Knowing things is the basis of decision making in our society - report after report is written outlining facts and distilling research, we are then told we now have the tools for making the right decisions; knowing the right person can ease the passageway into employment, promotion.
We see in the encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus opens up the conversation “we know...” but in the ensuing conversation Jesus points out that ‘not knowing’ is a better place to begin. Nicodemus has come to Jesus in similar vein to the priests and Levites investigating John the Baptist (1.19). He comes with his background and his status, his knowledge and his power.
Yet this is not enough - for Jesus tantalizingly begins to deconstruct the basis of his knowledge, saying that he must start again. Being born from above, learning to see afresh, learning to live differently. In the face of Nicodemus’ own certitudes Jesus offers a new way of seeing, living and being.
In v.8 Jesus words strike at the heart of anyone’s foundation of living - “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.”
Can we live without knowing? Can we live in the dynamic of walking with God who does know? Dare we let go of what we know so that we may know afresh? This is not to say that we do not live without certitudes. Jesus himself says in v.11 ‘Very truly I tell you...we speak of what we know...” We need knowledge and certitudes to help us grow, understand, think and create - but they can close us up into ourselves; they can build walls of self-righteousness and they can prevent us from listening to others.
In knowing Jesus we give up our own certitudes for his. In knowing Jesus we let him shape us and form his identity within us. In knowing the one who gives true knowledge (John 8.32 - this truth shall set you free..) we start at a place of re-discovery and relationship.
Jesus comes to ‘save’ (v16) us from ourselves - to set us free to to live the very life of God in us and through us. This only happens when we now the one who saves.
Abram in Genesis 12 starts on a journey from a place where he knows to a place where only God knows. “Go from your land , your family, your father’s house to a place I will sow you.” (12.1) That journey does not start with a known destination but a trust in what God will do and where God will lead. There is a frailty and vulnerability in this journey. When we start out on our own journey of faith we are only asked to trust. We do not need to work it all out. We do not need to know it all. Only to know the one who leads.
John is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Tupsley and St Andrews, Hampton Bishop in Hereford Diocese. He’s also currently doing Doctoral Studies at Kings College London.