You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.
The gospel lesson this week is a little different. Instead of Jesus teaching crowds of people or his disciples, he is talking to just one man. The man is named Nicodemus, and he’s an important man among the Jewish people. He comes to see Jesus at night—I have read that this is because he didn’t want to be seen consulting Jesus openly so he comes by cover of darkness. I don’t think that’s explicitly stated, but it could be true. So he comes to Jesus to find out more about him. He says, “Teacher, we know that you are a teacher sent from God. No one can do these miraculous signs that you do unless they have God’s help.”
Jesus tells him, “Everyone must be born again. Anyone who is not born again cannot be in God’s kingdom.”
This curious answer throws him for a loop. Of course, as modern Christians we’ve heard the term born again, but imagine if you have heard it for the first time; it would be puzzling. So Nicodemus asks, “How can a man who is already old be born again? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time?” (There’s a mental picture for you—eek!)
So Jesus tells them that everyone must be born from water and the Spirit, not the same as their physical birth. He says, “But the new life that the Spirit gives a person is spiritual. Don’t be surprised that I told you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants to. You hear it, but you don’t know where it is coming from or where it is going. It is the same with everyone who is born from the Spirit.”
Nicodemus is still confused. Jesus tells him, “You people don’t accept what we tell you. I have told you about things here on earth, but you do not believe me. So I’m sure you will not believe me if I tell you about heavenly things! The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the one who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.” (The Son of Man is one way Jesus would refer to himself.)
Then follows one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world. He did not send him to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.”
This is the essential bit. I love the Worshiping With Children website’s explication of this passage. Here’s my favorite part:
+ Children sympathize with Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus with literal, left brained questions and Jesus answered him with poetic metaphors. They understand Jesus’ answers about a second birth and the wind no more than Nicodemus did. For them the part of this reading that makes sense is verses 16-17. Here Jesus says to Nicodemus and to them that God loves you and everyone. Indeed God is more interested in loving us than in judging us. You can trust God to be like this.
That’s the crux—it’s about God’s love for us. You can get into what it means to be born again, what he’s saying about the Holy Spirit being like the wind, being lifted up as the Son of Man, etc., but it’s all down to love, not judgment.