Today’s reading: John 2:23-3:21
Spirit, give us a new understanding of fresh truths as we read this familiar text, and help us learn to follow a cosmic Jesus.
This past year, alongside many evangelicals of color, I have been interrogating aspects of my identity: follower of Christ; evangelical; ethnic Chinese growing up in a post-colonial society; immigrant. What does it mean for me to embrace and represent the Good News when I am in disagreement with “the 81 Percent” — my brothers and sisters who call themselves evangelical?
In this passage, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Kingdom of God is not just for the privileged. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a “ruler of the Judeans,” wields systemic religious and political power. His religious system regarded Jesus and his ragtag band as suspect, because they flouted a system constructed to preserve hierarchy and oppression.
To avoid risking his status of privilege, he brings his questions to Jesus under cover of night.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Kingdom of God is not granted to those lucky enough to be born into the right tribe. It can only be seen by someone “born from above” and can only be entered by someone “born of water and spirit.” Jesus’ response to Nicodemus is to inform him that the Kingdom of God extends beyond his privileged group. This is God-initiated belonging, a cosmic belonging.
I have been musing on Richard Rohr’s conception of the “Cosmic Christ” in meditating on Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus. My deepening understanding of the Good News considers not just my personal sin, but the systems of oppression rightly characterized as Evil. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross defeats the power of these evil systems, systems which destroy the image of God in each person as well as degrade the health of all of Creation. Furthermore, God’s Kingdom involves the redemption of these broken systems into the Way of Love. At the end of the Age, Love stands victorious over Evil as Creation is restored.
This cosmic understanding of the Good News is reflected in David Bentley Hart’s* translation of John 3:16, every evangelical’s foundational verse. “For God so loved the cosmos as to give the Son, the only one, so that everyone having faith in him might not perish, but have the life of the Age.” Further, in v. 17: “For God sent the Son into the cosmos not that he might pass judgment on the cosmos, but that the cosmos might be saved through him.” Hart calls the “cosmos” the “whole of the created order.”
This is a much deeper reading of the “world” than most of us grew up with. Perhaps “world” is not a collection of humans on this earth whose souls need to be rescued from only their personal sin before it is too late. This text tells me that Christ, the embodiment of God as Love, comes to destroy the power of Evil and Oppression so the entire created order can not only survive, but also have life; to thrive. Jesus comes not just for the privileged, He comes for all.
Standing up for a cosmic justice—for the restoration of the Imago Dei in all humans, and for our planet and beyond—is integral to embracing and representing the Good News. Nicodemus has a choice here: enter into Love, or perpetuate an unjust and oppressive religious and political system.
This Lent, I am finding fresh freedom and direction for my journey with Jesus. I resolve to forge ahead with my siblings in the wider Church, follow a marginalized, impoverished, Middle Eastern, and cosmic Christ, and participate with Him to work towards redemption, renewal, and restoration of all things.
How do we respond, with our whole identities, to the challenge of this text beyond the common evangelical understanding of John 3:16? How do we participate in Jesus’ healing work of justice in our communities?
*Hart, David Bentley, The New Testament (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 173–174.
Created by: Jennifer Lien
About the author: Jennifer Lien has worn several hats in her life in two continents: newspaper journalist, opera singer, music professor. She still sings, but she is also finding fresh meaning in doing justice and loving mercy in her roles as mother and professional volunteer.
Image by: Steven Lee
About the artist: Steven Lee is an 18 year old Taiwanese American. He has been doing fine art all his life, exploring digital art at Chapman University, and he also enjoys singing in choir and a cappella groups, playing violin and composing/arranging songs. Music, art, the love of Jesus, and sociology are the main focuses of his life, and he is dedicated to connecting the four of them in unifying and healing this world’s injustices along with others like-minded.