John 3:1-17 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' 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?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Reflection I feel a kind of kinship with Nicodemus as Jesus responded to him in much the same way a Zen teacher did with me some thirty years ago. I had been instructed that the protocol for approaching a Zen teacher was to sit in their presence until they acknowledge you. There being no other instructions, after waiting for what seemed like an eternity I decided surely I was supposed to say something. So when it appeared the teacher noticed me I said, “I want to know the truth.” He replied, “Have a cup of tea.” Then he stood up and left the room. I felt utterly stupid, completely confused, embarrassed and departed.
A couple of years later I read a Zen story. “A master who lived as a hermit on a mountain was asked by a monk, "What is the Way?” "What a fine mountain this is," the master said in reply. The monk continued, ”I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way.” "So long as you cannot go beyond the mountain, my son, you cannot reach the Way," replied the master.”
Today it occurs to me, the Zen teacher could just as well have said to the monk, “As long as you are born only of the flesh you cannot see the kingdom of God.” Like wise, I can imagine Jesus saying to Nicodemus, “If you cannot go beyond the mountain, you cannot reach the Way.”
The thing about wisdom is, it seems like utter nonsense to the casual listener. In the tradition of Zen the purpose of koans (basically nonsense statements such as the master’s response to my declaration that I wanted to know the truth….”have a cup of tea,” or Jesus’ strange response to Nicodemus, “You must be born from above,” the purpose of koans and illogical commentaries is to dumbfound the reasonable mind; to stun it, bewilder it and move beyond it.
I believe Jesus and the Zen masters are not looking for their students to understand, which is to say, to grasp the meaning of things with their minds. I believe what Jesus and the Zen masters are seeking is to break open the minds of their students (disciples), to free us from the limits of reason and intellect so that we can participate in the eternal, spiritual dimension of Being, right here, right now, on earth. Jesus and the masters teach for transformation, not information.
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