Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Come Toward the Light

The high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy, laid hands upon the Apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.”  Acts 5:17-20

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 3:19-21

When things happen in “threes,” take note.
When things happen in “threes,” take note.
When things happen in “threes,” take note.

Repeating a word three times is equivalent to saying something with bold letters, italics and underlined followed by exclamation points.  For example:

One cried out to the other: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3) 

“Then I looked again and heard an eagle flying high overhead cry out in a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth from the rest of the trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to blow!” (Revelation 8:13).

Every so often, we get one of the most famous passages in the Bible to consider in our daily reading and reflection.  Today is one such day.  Probably next to “In the beginning…” from Genesis, today’s Good News starts out with the immortal passage, “For God so loved the world…”

People often cite John 3:16 as a favorite scripture passage.  I will admit to being one of them.  When I was younger, I looked it up because every Sunday, a person carried a banner in the Pittsburgh Steelers end zone which read:  John 3:16.  I knew John Stallworth’s jersey number was 82 so the sign must be referring to something else.

The passage John 3:16 does not stand alone.  It is part of the longer conversation which Jesus had with Nicodemus.  This was not a one-way communication.  The Pharisee had a key part in it.  For a conversation must have at least two parts otherwise it is only a sermon, lecture or soliloquy.  Plus, there had to be at least ONE witness who talked or wrote about what happened or we would not have this story. 

Nicodemus sought out this encounter with Jesus.  Even though he did it at night
so others might not notice, he was actively seeking to learn more about what Jesus preached.  Jesus invited him to come toward the light.  Maybe he did so as a spy to report back to his compadres.  But the conversation led him in another direction entirely.  Nicodemus has three parts in this one-act play:   

First is the conversation starter:  He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

Next he posed a follow-up question:  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” (John 3:4)

Still determined to better understand, he poses a THIRD question to Jesus:  Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” (John 3:9)

This reflection will not delve into the parallel between Peter denying Jesus three times and Jesus challenging Peter three times to “Feed my sheep.”  It is not a coincident that Jesus rose on the third day after his execution.  When things happen in “triplets” in the Bible, we should take notice.  Not just repeated once, but repeated three times.

Did it work?  What is the verdict?  Did the conversation change anything?  I think so.  Including this three-question interrogation, Nicodemus appears three times.  Nicodemus tried to defend Jesus in the temple when the plot was being hatched by the Pharisees to arrest him.  Then he appears with Joseph of Aramithea to bury the body of Jesus after the Lord dies on the cross.  When others had left him, Nicodemus was there performing the spiritual works of mercy.

Conversation led to conversion.  It is an interesting relationship that comes back to the roots of both words.   

Furthermore, such a commitment to change (conversatio in Latin) is another commitment that is closely allied with vow of stability/fidelity and unique to Benedictine monastics. This Latin word means a commitment to all practices oriented toward the search for God. (Sorry, I could not resist overusing the formatting in Word).

By practices we do not mean a rote, rigid adherence to regimen. Conversatio includes disciplines such as commitment to a regular daily schedule of prayer and work, to silence, to lectio divina, community meals, and community of goods. Everything is oriented toward a faithful living of the Gospel.[i]

Of even more significance is the word conversatio, a term that is difficult to translate. Conversatio connotes a commitment to live faithfully in unsettled times and to keep one's life open. Such a paradox: remain settled; stay open to change! For the monks of the Middle Ages, living faithfully meant listening to an inner voice and responding to the call.[ii]

Nicodemus gives a pretty good model for how you or I might react if we wanted to learn more about what someone meant.  We mightgo up to them and start a conversation that demands more than a “Yes” or “No”answer. 

What’s your story?
What personal passion project are you working on right now?
Working on anything exciting lately?
What was the highlight of your day today?
What’s your biggest fear?
If you had to pick any character in a book, movie or TV show who is most similar to you, who would you choose? Why?
When you were growing up what was your dream job? Is any part of that still true?

Group reunion is one of those crucial conversations. Who will you have a critical conversation with this week?

Come toward the light. Come toward the light. Come toward the light.

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