A hundred years ago, it was easy to get a job no matter what your education level. Indeed, having a high school diploma was something fancy. I have one framed in my basement from about 1920. It is huge! 18 inches by 24 inches, all gilded up and painted, and stamped. I bet our high school graduates did NOT get a diploma like this. I think they got a nice one – but they didn’t get their name in three-inch-tall calligraphy.
But eventually, a high school diploma didn’t cut it for the average job seeker. In my generation, to get an entry level job, you usually have to have a college degree. What college degree is in doesn’t really matter- English majors and math majors both pour coffee the same way- but if three people apply for a job and two have high school degrees and one has a college degree… the college person is getting the job.
I’ve heard it rumored that a master’s degree is going to be the next bench mark for my daughter’s generation.
What’s going on?
Having those diplomas are short-hands. Easy answers for employers who don’t know you personally, and don’t have time to know you personally. They look at their big stack of resumes and cut out the ones with the fewest diplomas first, and then the second fewest, and so forth, until there is a short enough list to manage.
Some may say “This is how we’re getting the smartest workers.”
Yet, I know people who didn’t graduate from high school, barely read, and yet – run massive, successful, businesses. And, the doctor student who graduates the first in her class is still called the same thing as the student who graduates dead last: Doctor. And some schools practically pass every teen; and some make it hard and competive – even though they are both public high schools.
Intelligence and a diploma aren’t actually tied together, when we think about it.
But a diploma is shorthand for knowledge.
In today’s story, picture Nicodemus as a heavily doctor’d up man. Nicodemus knows a lot. A lot of a lot. He can read and write, he can teach; in fact, he teaches the teachers. He knows his scripture forward and back, and is famous enough to be called the leader of the teachers in this area. Number one. Their representative. Their smartest guy. His wall is full of diplomas from all the prestigious schools.
When he comes to Jesus, he chooses to go under the cover of darkness. Maybe he’s ashamed.
Maybe he doesn’t want anyone to lose their confidence in him – he, who has all the answers – who now is going to someone without a formal education. It would be like the surgeon general asking a cashier about how to do brain surgery.
Maybe Nicodemus comes secretly wishing for knowledge, more insight, into Jesus.
We don’t know his reasons. We do know he comes in the dark, symbolizing in John’s book ignorance, and Nicodemus leaves again still in the dark… still befuddled and not understanding.
I’m not really sure if Nicodemus is complementing Jesus by telling him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…” or if he is insulting Jesus.
As a complement, it means Nicodemus is willing to concede Jesus is godly, and an equal or greater — for the greatest teacher is calling Jesus teacher, Rabbi. And Nicodemus is setting the stage to ask Jesus how it is he must be from God, however… he has no formal education, no temple background, and is a homeless wanderer. You’re doing miracles, but – you were born in a barn. Really! What’s up?
This leads us into thinking maybe Nicodemus is being patronizing instead of complementing. Into Nicodemus talking down to Jesus, without even realizing it maybe. In today’s lingo, Nicodemus is rabbi-splaining. Explaining something in a manner that belittles the other person.
Jesus – let me tell you just who you are: you’re working signs, so you must be coming from God. I think Nicodemus would go on from here to quote lots of scripture to Jesus to explain just how Jesus must be coming from God.
Nicodemus is listening to himself laud himself on his own knowledge, and thinks everyone ought to listen to him and to how he knows better.
It’s an awful habit anyone who gets to be a specialist may begin to do.
With a shiny new high school degree, every teenager knows SO much more than their younger siblings. They can’t be right on anything of importance. Leave it to the graduated ADULTS to understand.
With that new college degree, every young adult knows just how naive, silly, and uneducated those with ‘only’ a college degree are. It’s insulting to compete against them for the same entry-level jobs!
We get big for our britches real fast.
We all do.
And then, we think we know best and don’t listen to what others know, or experience, or have to say.
Nurse: “I think this patient needs a different medication,”
Specialists: “No – no. I read about this condition in a medical book at med school – where I graduated with honors – and I know best.”
The nurse is ignored because of the perceived differences in rank. Just imagine how much the patient is ignored by this specialist!
Nicodemus the Specialists begins to tell Jesus just who Jesus is and what Jesus is about.
So Jesus begins to talk about who Jesus is – giving us these images of God our Parent sending Jesus our Brother to bring the kindom, all about us, which we can live into now through the Holy Spirit.
This was not the conversation Nicodemus was intending.
To Nicodemus’ credit, he stops trying to explain things to Jesus and asks for clarification. THAT is the amazing part to me. So many people refuse to ever become the student! They’d rather fight tooth and nail to remain the specialists, the teacher, the one in charge.
I think this is why at the end of John’s gospel, Nicodemus shows up again – this time in twilight, symbolizing he is coming out of the ignorant dark – to bring an offering to Jesus’ tomb. He’s willing to learn. Willing to teach and to be taught.
And so Jesus teaches him.
Jesus elaborates – explaining how those in the kindom are born of both water and Spirit. You and I are born of both baptism and the Holy Spirit. Or born of flesh, and then reborn with the Spirit in them. Both human and divine. Both a normal human, and yet a reflection of the living God.
And Jesus speaks of the Spirit, the Wind, like the wind outside. We don’t know where it started or where it will end. It goes where it will. It is mysterious. We don’t see the wind, but we see the effects of the wind. We see tree leaves rustle and we see deadly tornadoes. We feel the soft kiss of morning breezes and we feel the bitter wailing winds of winter. The Holy Spirit is the same – alighting, awakening, the great and the weak alike. Appearing in strange places, in strange people – unpredictable. We can’t see it. We can’t touch it. But we see what the Spirit does.
Nicodemus is flabbergasted.
Jesus childes him – why are you flabbergasted? I thought you were the teacher of teachers! I thought you were coming to teach me a thing or two!
As we mentioned, Nicodemus leaves in the dark. But the little light Jesus has lit in him grows and grows until Nicodemus begins to understand. Begins to accept there is more to this world than what is in our books. More in this world than what our science can explain. More to our faith than what can be contained inside a book — even a holy book like those of the Bible.
It takes being teachable to see it.
That’s really what a diploma represents. It isn’t intelligence – it is a symbol of teach-ability. It is a sign that this person with a diploma, by hook or by crook, knows how to learn.
Intelligence is hard to measure, for geniuses think uniquely.
But we can measure a person who is able to learn by giving them things to learn, and then testing how much they retain.
Really, what jobs are seeking are employees who are willing and able to learn new things.
Our first reading was Isaiah’s call story. It is a wild vision where Isaiah stands in the temple of God. God is so awesome, so terrifying, so massive and uncomprehendible that the hem of God’s robe fully fills the temple. Flying snakes that breathe fire – seraph – attend to God.
And Isaiah is scared to be here. He KNOWS he is a sinner! He KNOWS whatever he says is going to be the wrong thing. And he begins to apologize. He’s not here to argue why he isn’t a sinner, or explain to God just who God is.
Isaiah just says “Woe is me! I’m not holy enough to be here!”
So a coal is brought to his mouth, to burn him, and cleanse him. The seraph tells Isaiah that his sin is now gone.
Meanwhile, God asks the seraph around him, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
The very first words out of Isaiah’s cleansed mouth are: “Here I am! Send me!”
I picture the surprise in the temple, in the world, in heaven. God was asking the angels about God which ANGEL should go… and instead, this little human volunteers. After our reading today, God tells the little human how badly the human’s mission is going to go. And tells him about how everyone around the human will have dull eyes and plugged up ears – and will get even more dazed out after hearing the prophet. No one wants to hear or understand the message from God. No one is teachable.
But Isaiah’s mission is to teach anyways.
To be a prophet anyways.
And his prophecies are some of our most treasured words.
In them we hear the coming of the Messiah, and the full reign of God on earth as God reigns in heaven. In Isaiah’s prophecies we hear things that have happened in the past, and things that will happen in the future.
Because this man was humble, and teachable.
We’re asked to be the same. Asked to never hold ourselves so highly that we forget to listen to one another. Asked to be teachable, willing and open to the prodding of the Spirit within us. We’re asked to remember that God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called. Nicodemus wasn’t asked to be a first disciple, although he well knew his scripture. That teenage fisherman Peter was called among the first. Scholars are pretty certain he couldn’t read or write.
We’re asked to be teachable. Willing and ready to go when God calls us – knowing God will equip us for the mission. And also willing and ready to volunteer – knowing that we are called to live in love.
What are we called to? Where should we volunteer to go?
The Spirit within you is ready to help you discern the will of God, if you’re open to it.