March 13, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

What Jesus tried to teach Nicodemus during his visit

John F. FinkParishes have a choice of Gospels for Masses this weekend. The normal “B” cycle of readings, which we are hearing this year, has a passage from St. John’s Gospel about Christ’s coming glorification through his cross and resurrection. However, in places where there are catechumens, John’s Gospel about the curing of the man born blind is permitted—the Gospel always read during cycle “A.”

The one about Christ’s coming glorification happened early in his ministry, during the visit of Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who came to see Jesus in Jerusalem at night to avoid observation. Later, he was to speak up for Jesus in the Sanhedrim and, after the crucifixion, he brought about 100 pounds of a mixture of myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial.

Nicodemus’ visit is reported only in John’s Gospel because the other three Gospels don’t tell us about Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem over a three-year period. It happened near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, while John the Baptist was still baptizing.

Jesus made four points during his conversation with Nicodemus. First, he said that we must be “born from above” (Jn 3:3), and, when Nicodemus misunderstood, said that we must be born of water and the Spirit. Thus we enter into a new and higher life when we are baptized.

Second, Jesus compared the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul to wind. We don’t know where the wind comes from or where it goes, and that’s the way it is with the Spirit.

Third, he said that the Son of Man (Jesus himself) came down from heaven. Did Nicodemus realize that Jesus was telling him that he existed in heaven as God before coming to Earth?

Finally, he says that he must be “lifted up” (Jn 3:14).

The reading for this weekend, though, doesn’t report on all of Nicodemus’ visit. It begins with Jesus’ final words to him: “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” (Jn 3:14-15).

This is a reminder to us that, from the beginning of his public life, Jesus was well aware of what kind of death he would suffer in order to bring us eternal life.

After this, though, the evangelist takes over. No longer quoting Jesus, John tells us that “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” (Jn 3:16).

Further, he gives us these powerful words: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).

He goes on to tell us that whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned, but that those who do not believe have already been condemned. Therefore, although Jesus’ purpose in coming into the world was to save it, nevertheless his coming also provoked judgment upon those who condemn themselves by turning away from him through their evil deeds. †

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