FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT MARCH 10-11, 2018 GATHER HYMNAL #914 2 CHRONICLES 36:14-16, 19-23 EPHESIANS 2:4-10 JOHN 3:14-21 The Pastor’s Reflections
“There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night. (John 3:1-2)” This is the context of our Gospel passage this week. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a member of an exclusive brotherhood that publically vowed to observe every detail of the thousands of laws the scribes had extracted from bible texts. Jesus condemned this religious legalism and those who fostered them saying, “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders. (Matthew 23:4)”
Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin, a court with seventy members. It was Israel’s Supreme Court. It had authority over all Jews, and had the exclusive authority to determine if a person was a false prophet. Hence, throughout the Gospels, we witness the Pharisees and scribes following Jesus around judging the orthodoxy of every word he spoke.
Nicodemus was a wealthy man. After Jesus’ death he assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’ burial by bringing a mixture of one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. Only a very wealthy person could have afforded to buy such a large quantity.
It’s so strange that Nicodemus, a wealthy, ultraorthodox Pharisee and member of the exclusive, and, very powerful Sanhedrin, would secretly meet with Jesus to discuss religious topics. Jesus was highly suspect by both the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. It’s no surprise that Nicodemus visited Jesus under the cover of darkness. The heart of this passage contains two of Jesus’ most profound mystical teachings.
“No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again from above. (John 3:3)” Nicodemus was perplexed by this statement. A person cannot re-enter the womb. There must be something more behind this statement. Jesus added an additional layer to the teaching. “One must be born again of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5)” You can hear both frustration and amazement in Nicodemus’ response, “How can this happen? (John 3:9)” Jesus’ answer was a challenge. Jesus was about to open a scripture to him “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? (John 3:10)”
We must remember that this wasn’t a hostile meeting. Nicodemus was risking a great deal by coming to Jesus. He was attracted to Jesus and his teachings. But there was more. Nicodemus was a dedicated Jew – a deeply religious man. Something about his spiritual journey seemed to be lacking. He was looking for more. Deep down he hoped that Jesus could open a spiri- 2 tual door for him. Jesus presented a powerful image for Nicodemus to contemplate.
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John3:14-16)”
Jesus reminded Nicodemus of a passage from the Book of Numbers. The people of Israel had been journeying through the desert hoping to find the Promised Land. Even though God gave them water from a rock that Moses struck with his staff, and rained manna into their camp to feed them in the morning and even though God sent flocks of quail to fly over the camp for their food in the evening, the people turned their eyes back to the life they had in Egypt. “With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up from the land of Egypt to die in this desert? (Numbers 21:5)’” In punishment God sent serpents into their camp that bit and killed many of the people. They turned to Moses and begged him to do something to save them. He prayed, and God told him to make a serpent out of bronze, to place it on a pole, and to lift it up for all the people to see. Anyone who was bitten and looked up at the serpent recovered.
Jesus was making a clear reference to his crucifixion, and the redemption that would be won for everyone who saw the true meaning of his death. His crucifixion, being spawned from the violence and injustice of the world, would not condemn the world. The world had already condemned itself by not believing in him. Being lifted up on the cross, Jesus would offer every person the opportunity to see God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 316)”
Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that he was the incarnation of God’s love. The sight of that love lifted up in glory on the cross would bring new life to everyone who believed in that love – they would be born again through that love.
At the conclusion of John’s account of the Passion he added an unforgettable image. When the solders “came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (John 19:33-34)” John presented Jesus as a woman giving birth – the water and the blood anticipating the birth.
The cross invites us to enter the mystery of God’s love in the person of Jesus crucified – the Paschal Mystery through which we are reborn to eternal life.