Friday, March 27, 2009

What He is Doing

March 28, 2009

Saturday of the Fourth Week in Lent

Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: "Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more." Jeremiah 12:19

Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, "Does our law condemn a person before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?" They answered and said to him, "You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee." John 7:49-52


I pray incessantly for the conversion of the prodigal son’s brother.
Ever in my ear rings the dread warning.
This one has awoken from his life of sin.
When will the other awaken from his virtue?
-- Dome Helder Camara, August 29, 1962


What is he doing? That Nicodemus is a Pharisee. What is he doing defending Jesus?

Today our reading presents to us Nicodemus for his second appearance in St. John’s telling of the Good News. Nicodemus has heard Jesus in the temple and when we first met him back in Chapter 3, he was stealing away under cover of darkness to meet with the Prince of Light. Despite the darkness, Nicodemus was drawn to the light. This passage shows us the next stage in the conversion of Nicodemus.

Now, he is among the Pharisees when they start to foment the crowd against Jesus. Rather than being pulled along with the “group-think” of the maddening crowd, Nicodemus urges restraint. “Does our law condemn a person before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?”

His counsel, however, falls upon deaf ears. The people only hear what they want to hear and are not swayed to do a fuller investigation by talking directly with Jesus as Nicodemus had done in his first direct encounter with Christ. The words of Jesus to Nicodemus in the earlier visit now take on new meaning as we see the Pharisee come to the defense of Jesus.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. John 3:17-21

Nicodemus learned through his direct encounter that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Although Nicodemus came to meet Jesus at night, he clearly was starting to turn his life toward Jesus, the light of the world. Now, after his “study” to get to know Jesus, he was springing into action trying to keep the world from condemning Jesus. But Nicodemus was going against the rising tide of public opinion. The Pharisees and the people “preferred” the darkness. No longer fearful of meeting Jesus only at night, Nicodemus starts acting in the daylight as his faith will guide him.

What he is doing is helping to show that Jesus was successful. The next time we encounter Nicodemus, he will be with Joseph of Aramithea at the foot of the cross, removing the body which once belonged to Jesus, anointing it and placing it in the tomb. Nicodemus’s actions are the final step in the world that paves the way for the Resurrection.


We could ask the same thing about Jesus during Lent. What is he doing, allowing himself to be led to the slaughter like the innocent Lamb that he is? Instead of challenging Jesus, perhaps we should ask ourselves what we are doing to spread the light? If someone looked at our lives, would they conclude that we prefer darkness to light? Or are we getting infected with the same message that broke through the clutter of tradition and resonated with Nicodemus?

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