Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B – Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B – Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B – Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B) features a nocturnal conversation between two important religious teachers: on the one hand a notable “teacher of Israel”named Nicodemus, and on the other, Jesus whom this Nicodemus calls a “teacher from God.”
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. His prominent role and position in the national cabinet called the Sanhedrin made him the custodian of a great tradition. He was expected by many to be a national expert on God! Jesus is about to evangelise one of the great minds of Israel.

It is important to provide some background for the Gospel passage for this Sunday. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is one of the most significant dialogues of the New Testament and his coming to Jesus secretly at night suggests the darkness of unbelief. The whole visit and conversation are shrouded in ambiguity and the Johannine penchant for strong contrasts such as darkness and light can be seen in this highly symbolic story.

Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the need to experience the presence of God in a new and radical way and offer oneself to him. Knowing God is much more than a gathering of theological information and data about him. In speaking about being “born again” from above, Jesus does not mean that one must reenter the mother’s womb for a second time; but Jesus refers to a rebirth, which the Spirit of God makes possible. Every time we let the Holy Spirit take fully hold of our hearts we are in a certain sense “reborn” as children of God. New life flows in our veins.

Lifted up
Jesus tells Nicodemus, and all who will hear this story in future generations, that the Son of Man must be lifted up on a pole so that people may gaze upon him and find healing and peace. During Israel’s sojourn in the desert, the people were afflicted by a plague of serpents. Moses raised up a serpent on a stake, and all who gazed upon it were restored to health (Num 21:9). Both the bronze serpent and Jesus crucified symbolize human sinfulness. When Jesus is “raised up,” it is not only his suffering on the cross that is intimated. The Greek word used for “raised up” has a double meaning: both a physical lifting up from the ground, as in the crucifixion, or the spiritual lifting up which is an exultation.It announcs his glorification.

Information or Transformation?
What lesson does Nicodemus teach us today? He alerts us to what happens when we buy into a system and try to “master” theology, scripture, tradition, rules and regulations. He teaches us that courses in religion and theology are no substitute for faith and conviction. For Nicodemus, God is much more than information and data — God is first and foremost a friend, a lover, a Lord and a Savior, who patiently waits for us by day, and even by night. Rather than approaching Scripture as something to master, we must allow the Word of God to master us.
We know nothing more about Nicodemus, except that months afterward, he is able to postpone the inevitable clash between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. Later on, Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathea in retrieving the broken body of the dead Jesus. Jesus words had transformed him profoundly.

In our world of today we are saturated with information, you can “google” any word or topic and get literally millions of pages of information. Knowing new things is very different to knowing God.
“He who loves, knows God” says St John in his 1st letter (1 John 4:8), what a beautiful line that is. Satan, St James tells us in his letter,”knows” God exists and knows many things (his intelligence is far superior to any human intelligence) but doesn’t know and refuses to know one essential thing… that he is loved (James 2:19).
God’s word fails to transform us because we don’t hear it with out heart. We hear it with our ears and mind but we don’t let it take root in our heart. For that to happen it has to fall into “good soil” and that good soil is prayer, a loving, humble and open heart.

Nicodemus knew a lot of things and was an intelligent man but Jesus challenged him to see that God can’t be grasped like an idea or concept. He is infinity beyond the grasp of our little minds but can be touched by a faith-filled and loving heart.