• Lent 4 B

    Posted on March 4, 2018 by in Reflections on Sunday Gospels

    Learning about faith from Nicodemus

    This Sunday’s Gospel is part of the conversation of Jesus with

    Nicodemus. In the first part of the conversation Jesus spoke of the

    condition for a life of faith: “a begetting from above” and a “begetting

    from water and the Spirit.” Only through the Spirit can the believer “see”

    the kingdom in Jesus and enter into the “kingdom,” namely, into a life of

    communion through faith with Jesus. We of our own resources cannot rise to

    this life of faith in Jesus.

    To understand this part of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus

    we must hear the beginning of chapter 3. There were are told that

    Nicodemus is a leader of the Jews and comes to Jesus at night. Why

    he comes may be so that his fellow Jews don’t notice, or because

    he is a person who studies

    the scriptures at night. Nicodemus is attracted by the miracle working

    power of Jesus. Either he has witnessed it or heard of it from others.

    He learns as we must that it is not enough to be attracted to the miracle

    working power of Jesus. We must come to believe in Jesus. And Jesus says

    clearly that he must be lifted up. What does this mean? Cross and


    For us as Catholics we learn about Jesus. Who is Jesus? Son of

    God, teacher, Lord, Messiah, etc. What did Jesus teach? Love God and

    neighbor. Parables. But do we know Jesus? Do we have a personal

    relationship with Jesus? For us this is Protestant terminology. But

    unless we have a personal relationship with Jesus all the rest is for

    naught. We profess our creed: We believe in One God, Father almighty,

    maker of heaven and earth…. Proof of our relationship with Jesus is that

    we talk to him. Have you talked to Jesus this past week?

    John’s Gospel is the Gospel of belief. But the abstract word

    “faith” does not occur once in the gospel. There is only the personal

    activity of believing which is almost exclusively directed towards the

    person of Jesus. One may believe something about Jesus, for example, that

    he is Messiah and Son of God or give credence to him by accepting as true

    what he says. But the element of personal commitment to Jesus is expressed

    in the most frequent phrase: “believing into” Jesus.

    This “believing in (to)” Jesus goes far beyond accepting his

    message for it is a movement towards the person of Jesus, an attachment to

    him as the promised one and Son of God in such a way that the believer

    appropriates the very life of Jesus. Thus faith means to enjoy a life-

    giving relationship with him and to give oneself to Christ in dedication

    and full confidence. Besides, the reality of faith is expressed in other

    ways: to “follow,” “receive” (welcome), to “come to” Jesus, to “hear” his

    “voice” (an active obedience to his word.) Finally “seeing” Jesus often

    includes more than physical vision since it also means to contemplate him

    in faith.

    How then do we grow in our faith? l) Prayer, praise, petition,

    etc. 2) Reading the scriptures, specifically the Gospels. 3) Sharing with

    others what the scriptures mean to us, Basic Christian Communities.

    There are various groups where people share their faith, Schoenstadt,

    cursillo, retreats, etc. 4) Witnessing. Paul VI said that people of our

    day listen more to witnesses than to teachers. Testimonies are a concept

    foreign to us as Catholics. We don’t usually tell another what I have

    experienced of God in my life. Evangelization is an integral part of what

    it means to be a follower of Jesus. We can witness without saying a

    word about Jesus. I remember a project of St. Mary’s parish in Santa

    Rosa Texas. A group of men worked a whole day to put in new pavement

    in front of the church. As cars passed by they couldn’t help but notice

    what was happening. We can visit our neighbor and say something

    like, “we are from St. Mary’s and just wanted to say hello.

    In today’s Gospel passage the conversation switches from faith as a

    generation of new life by the Spirit to faith as a personal activity of

    ours directed towards the person of Jesus and as a life-giving relationship

    with the Son of God. This faith is described in three stages:

    l) Faith is founded in the person of Jesus for he is the perfect

    revealer of God (he speaks to us of ‘earthly things’, our destiny and life of

    faith, but speaks to us also of ‘heavenly things’ the mystery of Jesus’ own

    person) whose revelation reaches its climax in his exaltation on the cross.

    Thus faith is our active response to Jesus as the true revealer of God.

    2) The saving revelation of Jesus is the manifestation of God’s

    love for the world (God gave his only Son, life of Jesus and death) which

    is not directed towards the ‘judgment’ or condemnation of the world but

    towards the salvation of those who believe in the Son of God. (vv. 16-18)

    We enter into a life-giving communion with Jesus and come to share in this

    saving ‘life’ through faith. But this must be a genuine faith as opposed

    to that faith which seeks signs. Such faith is a movement towards the

    person of Jesus, the giving of oneself to him and accepting him as he has

    revealed himself, that is, as the only, beloved Son, generated from the

    Father and the supreme expression of God’s love. But the person who

    deliberately rejects Jesus, condemns himself.

    3) This revelation of God in Jesus, or the coming of the light into

    the world, evokes a double response: the majority remain incredulous while

    others respond in faith. The positive response of faith in Jesus is

    described from various points of view. “Coming to the light.” In addition

    it is an internal self-appropriation of the meaning and message of Jesus

    who is the truth, or self-revelation of God. Thus “doing the truth” means

    making this truth one’s own or part of one’s living. Faith is also a

    question of works: listening to the word of Jesus, seeing Jesus as the Son

    of God, confessing faith in him, and then embracing those various activities

    in the process of faith through which the believer enters into communion

    with God through Jesus. Pope Francis: “If we see someone is hungry, we

    pray for them, then we feed them, that’s the way prayer works.”

    On the other hand, the negative response to Jesus is judgment or

    self- condemnation. These people think they are living in the light and do

    not see the evil of their own incredulity. (v. 20)

    We hear again about Nicodemus in John, Chapter 7. There the pharisees wish to condemn Jesus. Now Nicodemus becomes a day time defender of Jesus. He says that the law requires that Jesus have a hearing. We aren’t told just how Nicodemus had moved from doubter to defender.

    The last time we hear about Nicodemus in John’s Gospel is in chapter 19 when he with Joseph of Arimathea come to ask for the body of Jeus. They want to take it down from the cross. Remember, Jesus had been killed because he was considered dangerous. It was also dangerous to be identified with him. Nicodemus has grown to this fearless person. Perhaps we can identify with Nicodemus, first confused, then from doubter to defender and then to fearless person. Clearly the difference is

    marked between the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught and lived and the Kingdom of Empire so powerful in our day. We must

    act in some way so that what should not be is not and have courage so that what should be is. St. Augustine said that “hope has two lovely daughters, anger so that what should not be is not and courage so that what should be is.”

        On this Sunday of Lent we must examine ourselves: What am I doing to make sure that what should not be is not and so that what should be is? We can take inspiration and hope from the activities of the young high school students (not only in Florida) working for legislation to control guns.  They are speaking out with clarity and without compromise.  Am I able to do that?

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