After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: "Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah." For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
Why this tumult among nations,
among peoples this useless murmuring?
They arise, the kings of the earth,
princes plot against the Lord
and his Anointed.
'Come, let us break their fetters,
come, let us cast off their yoke.' (R./)
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord is laughing them to scorn.
Then he will speak in his anger,
his rage will strike them with terror.
'It is I who have set up my king on Zion,
my holy mountain.' (R./)
I will announce the decree of the Lord:
The Lord said to me 'You are my Son.
It is I who have begotten you this day.
Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations,
put the ends of the earth in your possession.
With a rod of iron you will break them,
shatter them like a potter's jar.' (R./)
Now 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."
When and where the Spirit comes, and with what consequences for our lives, cannot be determined ahead of time. "The wind blows where it will… You do not know where it comes from or where it goes." In both Hebrew and Greek one and the same word means wind and spirit. Nor can a previous reception of the Spirit determine how it will be done the next time. In today's gospel, as again in Acts 10:44-48, the Spirit descends unexpectedly. In fact, the sudden gift of the Spirit to the unbaptized household of the Roman cohort, "religious and God-fearing," yet non-Jewish and non-Christian, took even Peter by surprise. Yet immediately Peter exclaims: "What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit, even as we have, from being baptized with water?" Peter is prepared for the consequences of immediately baptizing pagan Romans, without first making them undergo Jewish circumcision. He thus anticipated Saint Paul in opening the doors of the Church to gentiles.
John portrays Nicodemus as one whose mind is clouded and who attempts to neutralize Jesus' highly spiritual statements with his own earthly ones. Nicodemus finds this talk about re-birth quite foolish! "How can a man be born again once he is old? Can he return to his mother's womb?" Despite such opposition, bordering on sarcasm, the Holy Spirit can manifest God's presence.The gift of the Spirit shakes a person's life to its roots; it induces new birth. It overcomes all opposition, be it military, political or religious. It states positively and unmistakably: you are an entirely new person. You live a new life. Everything about you will look different. Your responses to friends, your hopes for yourself or for your family and community, your ideals, your scale of values, all these vital aspects of life will look different. Your eyes will look out with the wonder of a newly born infant. You will run in all directions like a child and find that everything brings adventure. You will be accompanied with "cures and signs and wonders to be worked in the name of Jesus."
Yet at the same time, you remain the same person that you were before. What the Spirit achieves is a spiritual rebirth. A person does not re-enter his mother's womb. Rather an interior transformation takes place which activates hidden potential, which enlightens what was covered over with darkness (Jesus is " the light!"), which sharpens what had become dull and boring (Jesus is "salt of the earth!").
Many different kinds of people meet with Jesus in the course of John's gospel. In today's gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He was a Pharisee, a member of that group who are consistently hostile to Jesus in John's gospel. Yet, here was a Pharisee who stood out somewhat from his peers. He was attracted by Jesus, and he allowed himself to be drawn to Jesus, even though it meant going against the prevailing current. His first approach to Jesus is tentative, coming to Jesus under cover of darkness. His last appearance in John's gospel is much less tentative; along with Joseph of Arimathea, he sees to it that Jesus is given a dignified burial. Nicodemus journeyed closer to Jesus in the course of the gospel of John. His story encourages us to make progress in our own relationship with Jesus, even when that means going against the prevailing tide. Even if our relationship with the Lord seems tentative at times, Nicodemus encourages us to believe that it can become less so. Jesus' words to Nicodemus in today's gospel remind us, however, that our growing towards the Lord is not just our own doing; it is ultimately the work of the Spirit in our lives. Jesus declares that we need to be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. As a sailing boat needs the wind, we need the Spirit at our back if we are to make our way towards the Lord. That Spirit is available to us all. The season of Easter is a good time to invite the Spirit afresh into our lives.