THE SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR
By the Rev Dr Liz Hoare
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the most educated people in his society. As a Pharisee he was looked up to and expected to have answers, especially answers to religious questions. He is a great contrast, then with the character featured in the following chapter at Jacob’s well.
The woman of Samaria was not only from the religiously despised Samaritans, but being a woman she would not be considered worthy of an intellectual conversation, certainly not with a rabbi. We might therefore imagine that chapter 3 of John’s Gospel is about the intellectual encounter with God through Jesus while chapter 4 is about the emotional encounter, via the things of the heart. Nicodemus can grapple with what it means to be born of the Spirit while the woman is told to go and fetch her husband-who-wasn’t-her-husband and explain herself.
Yet it wasn’t like that at all. Jesus went straight to the heart of the matter with the Pharisee and told him he must be born again. There is nothing more intellectually helpless than a newborn baby, but Jesus was adamant that Nicodemus wasn’t going to get into the kingdom of God or understand who Jesus was unless he was prepared to be born from above.
Later, when he met the Samaritan woman, he not only challenged her about her domestic arrangements but he talked to her about living water in all its rich symbolism and its special meaning for her in her need.
Jesus is full of surprises and yet he gets to the heart of the matter every time. We might expect Nicodemus to be sure of himself and secure in his powers of intellect and place in society. He anticipated that Jesus would meet him on his own terms and clarify who he was. Perhaps he would allay the debates among the other religious leaders and teachers of the law. Jesus pulled the certitude from under his feet and told him he must become like a newborn child again.
The woman on the other hand had none of Nicodemus’ certitude. She was a broken person, a member of a hated minority and could expect nothing from Jesus who was her superior in every way. Imagine her sur- Over the past two decades, on average almost half a million people per year have immigrated to this country. In the latest British Social Attitudes survey (No 29), three-quarters (75 per cent) of respondents advocated a reduction in numbers of immigrants, and half (51 per cent) suggested a large reduction. What is often not realised is that a considerable number of people also emigrate, that is leave the country – on average over 300,000 a year. The graph shows the numbers.
However, that still leaves a net increase of 140,000 per annum, and over 20 years that’s 3 million people! Of these 2 million have come in the last 10 years, which is one reason why our general population increased by 3.7 million – over half of them were immigrants! A quar ter of all the non-UK born people in England and Wales in 2011 (7½ million) have arrived in the previous 10 years, prise when he even spoke to her, let alone engaged her in a conversation that took her responses seriously.
Nicodemus’ reply to Jesus’ pronouncement is a question that could be taken as ridicule or it could also be a sad and weary ‘if only’ response. If only I could start over again and have that new-birth. Life could be so different. Re-birth, however, also involves becoming vulnerable and dependent to a very great degree. For Nicodemus as for us, it would sound like a contradiction of everything he had learned as he grew up: autonomy, independence, status and control. It would mean letting go in order to find the answer to his original question of who Jesus was. It would involve a leap of faith rather than an intellectual conundrum to solve. It is not surprising that it took him a while to get fully on board. The Rev Dr Liz Hoare (nee Culling) is
tutor at Wycliffe Hall population of the countr y is the number of immigrants and emigrants, which is not easy since the number keeps increasing. In their latest forecast they have assumed that the net figure will continue at 140,000 for the time being, but put it higher at nearly 170,000 for the 2020s. Those who emigrate may well be those who immigrated a few years earlier because of employment or study reasons, but obviously British people also go and live abroad as well, sometimes for the same reasons.
The consequence of all this is a considerable change in the make-up of the population and this is seen in various ways, such as age and culture, and, as the 2011 Population Census showed, in religion. Unlike Australia, which records the religion of their immigrants, Britain cur rently does not do that, and sample surveys among immigrants are therefore necessary to determine tion, and, as Muslims have more children on average than British people, some of the other growth was immigrant-related also, as Muslim babies count as Muslims.
There is also another complicating factor, which is where immigrants reside. Many come initially to London and not a few stay in the city. Greater London’s population increased by a million people between 2001 and 2011, and of this increase 400,000 were extra Muslims. Many Muslims do, however, move to other cities, like Bradford, but, even so, of all the Muslims in the countr y two-fifths (38 per cent) live in London.
The same is true for other religions although to a different extent. Jews concentrate in cer tain parts of London, and in fact nearly three-fifths (57 per cent) of all the Jews in England live in London, as do half (51 per cent) of all the Hindus, a third (34 per cent) of all the Buddhists and almost as many (30 per cent) of all the Sikhs. But London only has a small proportion of those with no religion (13 per cent, the same percentage as it has of Christians, showing that Christianity and atheism are spread more evenly across Britain. Christians are also spread more evenly across London, unlike the Muslims who are concentrated in just a few Boroughs, especially Tower Hamlets where they outnumber Christians.
Some churches actively help immigrants in their locality. The need for language help can be very real – in four per cent of British households today no one speaks English as a main language, and in one per cent the main English speaker is a child not an adult. Whatever our views on the Government’s immigration policy, as Christian believers we need to seek creative ways to befriend “the stranger in our midst.”