Romans: 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3: 1-17
The old saying had it, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” Four days into this March, I have experienced both lamb winds and lion winds already. I put it down to the confusion of the seasons this strangely mild Winter, most likely influenced by the changes in the Earth’s climate.
This week I am meditating on some of the Bible’s best-loved verses, including Psalm 121 and John 3. As with most things we treasure, these passages contain both face-value and a depth of richness and complexity that may be savored over time and be appreciated on many levels, from many perspectives.
Some of you have heard me remark before, about Psalm 121, that many people misunderstand it because of the antique phrasing and punctuation in the classic King James’ Version.
the original 1611 printing of the King James Bible
I have known several people who loved Psalm 121 because they love mountains and hills. That’s a nice thought, according to our present-day way of thinking, but it completely misses the psalmist’s point.
Nowadays, living as we do in a beautiful valley rimmed by State and National Forested ridges, we tend to romanticize mountains for their wildness and natural beauty. Reading the King James Version of verse 1, which the translators 400 years ago chose to end with a period not a question mark, feeling religious around mountains and hills might seem to be the point.
But during Old Testament times, hilltops in Palestine were sites of pagan shrines where idol-worshipers did vile things in the service of their man-made gods. For a faithful Hebrew, to look at the hills was a challenge, quite uncomfortable. Looking at the hills reminded Israelites that they were living in the midst of neighbors who did not share their faith in “the LORD Which made heaven and earth,” but who instead ran off to the high places to perform rituals for false gods of earth, sky, and water.
So for the ancient Israelites, to agree with Psalm 121 meant to take a stand against putting one’s faith in the mountains and hills and the activities that took place there, a stand for the One Creator God who made all of Earth and sky.
John 3 is so deeply beloved by Christians for the doctrine of being “born again,” as well as for the favorite memory verse 16, “For God so loved the world....”
An aspect of John 3 that I have come to treasure is Jesus’ notion of the Holy Wind. In verse 8, the word pneuma may be translated both as Spirit and as Wind. Think of pneumatic and pneumonia: it’s a power which is invisible to our earthly eyes but nonetheless real. Jesus had just told the Pharisee Nicodemus that he and his fellow Jews must be “born again,” or translated an equally accurate way, “born from above.” Nicodemus was naturally confused by these strange thoughts. Then Jesus took the conversation to an even more mystical level, comparing people who are “born of the Wind” / “born of the Spirit” to the natural wind like we experience in the month of March, swirling and gusting and gently wafting in any direction, unpredictably and uncontrollably— that is, only to be comprehended or led by the One Which made sky and Earth.