Homily for April 24th, 2017: John 3:1-8.
Most of those who responded to Jesus’ teaching by coming to believe in him were “little people,” as the world reckons such things. In today’s gospel we meet an exception. Nicodemus was member of the Sanhedrin, the elite 70-man Jewish ruling body that went back to Moses. He comes to Jesus at night. He doesn’t want his fellow Sanhedrin members, almost all of whom are either hostile to Jesus, or indifferent, to know about his visit. The night visit may also have a symbolic meaning. John’s gospel is rich in symbolism. Nicodemus is coming from the darkness of disbelief, or at least of weak belief, to the One who is the light of the world.
There was similar symbolism in the gospel for Tuesday in Holy Week, also by John. After Judas leaves the Upper Room where Jesus was celebrating his Last Supper with the twelve apostles, John tells us: “And it was night.” For Jesus, however, it was not night. “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” he cries out, “and God is glorified in him.”
Nicodemus has been impressed by Jesus’ miracles – which ones we are not told. Calling Jesus “Rabbi,” Nicodemus says: “We know you are a teacher come from God, for no man can perform signs and wonders such as you perform unless God is with him.” This stops far short of acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah. There were other holy rabbis who performed signs and wonders.
This explains Jesus’ less than enthusiastic response. You cannot see God’s kingdom, he tells Nicodemus, unless you are “begotten from above,” in other words, “born of God as your Father.” A father “begets” the child whom a mother “bears.” Jesus’ meaning becomes clear only when he says: “No one can enter God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and the Spirit.”
That is what happened to each of us when we were baptized. Through the Holy Spirit, and the pouring of water, God our Father made us his children, brothers and sisters of his divine Son, Jesus, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. That is our eternal destiny. And the only thing can prevent the fulfillment of this destiny is our own deliberate and final No.