A nocturnal visit – Monday, 2nd Week in Easter – Acts 4:23-31/ John 3:1-8
Read also https://www.pottypadre.com/be-bold-and-dont-fold-monday-2nd-week-in-easter-tide-acts-423-31/ based on the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
This week we have to brace ourselves for a discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. Over the next four days, the Gospel of John will focus on chapter 3 in which Nicodemus encounters Jesus by night.
Who was Nicodemus? Nicodemus was a learned and a respectable man and a member of the Sanhedrin. John 3:10 tells us that he was a teacher of Israel and 3:1 tells us he was a leader of the Jews. We are told in the Gospel of John, the only Gospel to mention Nicodemus that he comes to see Jesus at night. It was Nicodemus who reminded the Sanhedrin that Jesus had the right to a trial. Together with St. Joseph of Arimathea, he prepared Jesus’ body and placed him in the tomb.
We are told that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and the first assumption that one is drawn to is that he was afraid of being seen publicly by the members of the Sanhedrin with Jesus or that this is merely a metaphorical way of describing his spiritual life; that he lived in the darkness of the truth and it is Christ who enlightens his mind. Whatever be the case, Nicodemus must be merited as a seeker for whatever the assumptions of Biblical scholarship may be, he is with Jesus, talking to him about matters relating to the faith.
While we will have to wait patiently over the next four days to listen to the entire discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, the focus of today’s Gospel is a man who has a sincere heart. He is respectful, for he addressed Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ and acknowledges that Jesus has come from God, working great signs. Yet, here in lies the problem.
For Nicodemus, Jesus is a ‘man come from God’ or a ‘man of God.’ At best Nicodemus could have been calling Jesus a prophet who worked great signs with the blessing of God. He sees Jesus as a man of God not the Son of God and Jesus has to stop his words of praise to correct him.
Jesus has now the unpleasant but bounded task to address the truth of faith. This is an issue we face so often when we have to contradict the mistaken teachings of even clergymen. But fraternal correction is a duty when it comes to matters of the faith; political correctness must take a back seat.
In order for Nicodemus to see Jesus as the son of God he has to let go of his blinkers. The Messiah was sitting in his presence, yet Nicodemus was still clinging on to his racial identity as a Jew with the promises it held. To see Jesus as the Messiah one had to be born from above or as the Greek translation also could be interpreted; ‘born again.’ Taking this to a practical level, Jesus was asking Nicodemus to take his blinkers off so that he could see the truth of faith; these blinkers were adding to the darkness of the night and his understanding.
Nicodemus is confused. He understands Jesus as speaking literally. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” Jesus now explains further. It is not that one has to reenter their mother’s womb but being born again is being open to water and the Spirit. This was hard for Nicodemus to understand.
It was taught widely among the Jews at that time that since they descended from Abraham, they were automatically assured of heaven. In fact, some Rabbis taught that Abraham stood watch at the gate of hell, just to make sure that none of his descendants accidentally wandered in there. For Jesus, what was born of the flesh is of the flesh but to enter the kingdom of God we need to born of water and the spirit. This is a clear reference to Christian baptism. Flesh only produces flesh (as in natural birth) but it is a spiritual birth that we should seek for that merits us the kingdom of heaven.
Once we are reborn in the Spirit, we let ourselves be led to where God wishes. In explaining our spiritual birth to Nicodemus, Jesus said “the wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes.” The ‘wind’, ‘breath’ of the Holy Spirit is the sole Guide for our lives. He brings about our renewal in his own way. The word for “wind” here is a word which also means “breath” and “spirit”
For Nicodemus this must have been a difficult moment. He was being challenged to let go of his traditional Jewish ideas of salvation. Unless Nicodemus allowed God to change his whole way of being in the world, he would not be able to perceive God at work in him.
Tomorrow, the debate continues…..