Saturday, April 01, 2017

Like a Trusting Lamb

I knew their plot because the LORD informed me; at that time, you, O LORD, showed me their doings. 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 11:18-19

So a division occurred in the crowd because of him. Some of them even wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why did you not bring him?" John 7:43-45

Father encourage us to struggle with the words and works of your Son so that our freedom to encounter Jesus leads us into the mystical and deep life-giving waters of faith.

The plot thickens…against both Jeremiah and Jesus. As our Lenten journey looks toward its final full week, the messages in our readings get more and more ominous like the storm clouds gathering overhead.  The beauty of Spring is always marred by the story of an unexpected tornado rolling over small towns in the Midwest like a runaway freight train.

Today’s Gospel scene takes place right after Jesus delivers the latest promise for the living waters of the Spirit.  To the thirsty, I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water (Revelation 21:6).  Such talk took some people off their feet.  Yet for others, this symbolized the latest affront that was reported to the Pharisees.

Into this scene, Nicodemus appears like a streak of blue sky between the storm clouds.  We have our second encounter with Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin.  It was to Nicodemus that Jesus delivered what has become one of the most quoted and beloved passages in all the Bible (John 3:16).  In that first nighttime encounter, Nicodemus sought out Jesus to learn more. In his blog entry, Matt Judkins, a United Methodist pastor from Oklahoma reflects upon the role of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus approaches Jesus under the cover of darkness, a prayer in secret (John 3:2). He then praises Jesus and acknowledges his intimate connection with God, something I find highly unusual given the portrait of Pharisees in the Gospels.

Nicodemus then proceeds to wrestle with Jesus in the conversation. Acknowledgment and struggle provide a great picture of prayer. We go to Jesus because, like Peter, we have nowhere else to turn. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).” Yet, in spite of this realization, prayer is often a struggle. Jesus offers Nicodemus difficult images and challenges, to which Nicodemus responds with stubborn literalism.[i]

And perhaps that experience paid off.  In John 7, we see Nicodemus urging on his peers to do the same and hear directly from Jesus and struggle with that meaning before passing judgment. Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, "Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?" John 7:50-51

Nicodemus may be the perfect companion for our Lenten journey. His symbolic three encounters with Jesus in John’s gospel contrast with the three denials of Peter and the three commissions of Peter. 

Picture yourself sitting in a classroom or restaurant or locked in the Cursillo community room Thursday night having the same conversation with Jesus.  Like Nicodemus, we are curious as to what others see and hear in this carpenter from Nazareth. When we listen with the ear of our heart, we are amazed. When the obstacles of society rear their ugly heads, we struggle We are trying to balance our lives and culture with the contradictions of love that Jesus puts before us.  Our Lenten struggle is to wrap ourselves around not JUST the words Jesus says, but what these words mean for our ACTION. 

In the first encounter, Nicodemus does not do much talking. The prayerful conversation is Nicodemus on the first leg of the tripod (piety).  In the second one today, he speaks up based upon his shared experience and study. In the third at the foot of the cross, he acts.

Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.  They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. (John 19:39-40)

Matt Judkins points out that Jesus presents us with the same challenge he gives to Nicodemus -- to move from seeking Jesus in the darkness to move into the light, love, and forgiveness of God given and revealed in the Son. Funny how that is exactly the flow of a Cursillo weekend – from the darkness and silence of Thursday night to the light and joy of the Closing.  Lent moves in that same fashion from the wintery, cold darkness of Ash Wednesday to the light and joy of our Resurrection Reward in the Easter Vigil.

Let us enter these final days of Lent prayerfully approaching God in secret and then to move out of that dark place of challenge and praise to share the light that we’ve received, namely the challenge of God’s strong love centered in Christ. By the third encounter, may our actions speak louder than any words.

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