Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

Reflection for 2nd Sunday of Lent

John 3;1-17 and Matthew 15;21-28

March arrives and the beginning of a new spring. Blossom is about to appear with spring flowers and the sound of garden machinery. Yet last year was not easy with heat and lack of water, pests and diseases, but most gardeners, hoping for a good outcome, are ready for battle to commence again. If only the same determination would drive Christians to get to grips with the afflictions that assault the human soul! We observe Lent, the springtime of the soul, determined to make spiritual progress, identifying with the persistence of the Canaanite woman who knew her need for help, never gave up in obtaining it [Matthew 15;21]. Her aim and ours is summed up in familiar words “create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me” [Psalm 51;10].

Jean Germain Drouais: The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ (1764),
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We are taught in the book of Genesis that mankind is made in the image and likeness of God – not because we have eyes and legs but because we have souls in which the image of God can take root. A right spirit requires an active soul to enable our humanity to respond to the Spirit. That is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3;6.].

Nicodemus is an important figure, who although a leader of the Jews and a thinking man, comes to the Lord, also asking for spiritual guidance. He had always thought that it was possible to achieve godliness by keeping religious rules and regulations. But some doubts must have entered his mind, forcing him to come secretly at night asking the teacher from God for guidance. He is given an answer that sounded ridiculous. Nicodemus, Jesus said, “You must be born again!” He departs thinking that a second physical birth is nonsense. Others will also misunderstand this challenge to be reborn, so Jesus begins to give instruction that will become the way forward for the early church. Renewal or rebirth is by the water of baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the start of the religious life preached by the Apostles with the promise that the journey will end in a full relationship with the Holy Trinity and the restoration of humanity united in Christ.

Throughout Lent we will constantly be reminded that rebirth is a constant focus of every Christian soul, the goal of faith and a continual process of personal transfiguration. In baptism we drown the life that does not seek God and receive the gift of the Spirit that makes possible the regeneration of the “new heart” and “steadfast spirit”.

At the beginning of our Lord’s ministry, John the Baptist recognises that Jesus is the “lamb of God” promised to Abraham. The Apostles come to see this too when their eyes are opened by the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus was by then one of the Jerusalem disciples, who had taken a long time to disperse his mental dilemmas. Finally he is forced into the open, attempting at first to defend Jesus at the trial before the Jewish Council. His efforts fail but he has shown his convictions and his rebirth had begun and was bearing fruit as he joined Joseph of Arimathea in taking responsibility for the burial of Jesus. Nicodemus would soon be baptised by St. Peter, thrown out of the Jewish Council, expelled from the Holy City and his former friends to become a new person born again within the Church as an heir of eternal salvation.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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