Friday, March 31, 2017

NICODEMUS


April 1st, 2017: John 7:40-53.

          “A division occurred in the crowd because of him,” we heard in the gospel. Some said, “This is truly the Prophet.” Others, who were already believers, confessed openly: “This is the Christ.” At which still others scoffed, saying that was absurd. Everyone knew that the Messiah would be descended from David and come from David’s city, Bethlehem, only six miles from Jerusalem.

Jesus was known as the rabbi from Nazareth in Galilee, a little hick village up north – in the boondocks, we would say. The Jewish authorities held this snobbish view. They scoff superciliously: “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”

To think of a modern equivalent we might imagine the mayor of a small town in our deep South, or in the Nevada desert, with a population of less than 500, appearing in Washington to offer a solution to one of our major problems – immigration, say, or health care. No one in the White House or in Congress would take him seriously.

When the authorities send the police to stop all this unrest and controversy by arresting Jesus, they come back empty handed. Asked why they have not accomplished their mission, the cops defend themselves by saying: “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

One member of the ruling class, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Israel, protests against his colleagues’ contemptuous dismissal of Jesus. Readers of John’s gospel have met him before, when he came to Jesus by night, so that his visit would remain secret. Jesus told him then that he must be “born again.” Nicodemus didn’t understand that. But he clearly remained fascinated by this unusual rabbi from Nazareth. Now he protests: “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him?”

Nicodemus has been called “a tentative disciple”: drawn to Jesus, but unable to make the total commitment that Jesus asks. There are many like him. We pray in this Mass that we may move beyond tentative discipleship and give ourselves totally to the Lord, who surrendered himself totally for us, even unto the shedding of his life’s blood.