The Book of Chronicles, with its summary diagnosis of Israel’s spiritual decline prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, makes depressing reading. The priesthood and the people had added infidelity to infidelity. They had ridiculed every appeal to conscience. It was as if something had died at the heart of the nation. The inevitable destruction of Jerusalem, when it came, mirrored the spiritual collapse that had preceded it.
We hope that we shall never experience anything as catastrophic as the destruction of Jerusalem. There is, however, much that we can learn from this sad chapter in Israel’s history. The people of Jerusalem had grown insensitive to the presence of God. They had ceased to struggle against the creeping compromises that had undermined their society. The will to lead virtuous lives had died.
When we are honest with ourselves, when we consider the first step towards repentance we sometimes sense a distance between ourselves and God. We can even begin to feel that the distance is irretrievable, that the longing for God has died within us. We cannot find within ourselves, even if we wished, the spiritual energy that would bring us back to God.
The Book of Chronicles ends its account of the destruction of Jerusalem with a message of hope. The God of Israel would rebuild Jerusalem and its people. When we cannot rebuild our own lives, it is the Lord himself who rebuilds broken hearts.
The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus expresses the same hope. Nicodemus had come to Jesus under the cover of night. In the verses preceding today’s Gospel he had been perplexed by the words of Jesus: “Unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The experience of sin teaches us that just as we cannot rebuild sinful lives by ourselves so we cannot bring to life all that sin has extinguished within us. This can only come from the rebirth that Jesus promised through water and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus the meaning of this rebirth. The rebirth promised by Jesus is rooted in the Father’s love.
“Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.”
We are reborn to the extent that we entrust ourselves to Christ, believing that he alone has the power to create us anew. Jesus insisted to Nicodemus that condemnation is not a matter of what lies in the past. All that matters is the choice that I make in this present moment of grace. When we choose darkness rather than light we condemn ourselves. When we choose to live by the truth, to embrace Christ as the light of our lives, what we do is done in God.
The words of St Paul see in Christ’s death and resurrection the rebirth of all that has died within us. When we were dead through sin, the Father brought us to life in his Son, raising us up and giving us a place with him. All we need is the faith that trusts in the Lord’s death and resurrection.
“It is by grace, through faith that you have been saved; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he meant us to live it.”