2nd Character in our Lenten Journey

There is limited information about Nicodemus in the Bible, except for the Gospel of John. Nicodemus was a Pharisee or educated religious leader, he likely had a position in the Jewish decision-making institution, the Sanhedrin. His educational training in debate, inquiry, and reasoning created a struggle for him to answer the question presented by Jesus about being born again to enter God’s kingdom.

I think it’s important to note two facets about this night time visit. First, “night” is used metaphorically in John’s gospel to represent the absence of God. Indeed, later in chapter 3:19-21, the writer condemns those who prefer darkness to light. Second, discipleship (or faithfulness) begins when we approach God. Nicodemus approached at night for his own reasons, most likely fear—fear of being seen by others but, perhaps, fear of being seen with Jesus in the bright sunlight.

It is easy to completely identify with Nicodemus in his confusion when Jesus began talking about being born from above then about the wind and being born of water then brings in Moses lifting up the serpent. I easily imagine me sitting next Nicodemus with my eyebrows furrowed, thinking,”Huh?”

But Nicodemus showed up again and is recorded twice, in John’s Gospel: In 7:50-52 Nicodemus gave a modest defense of Jesus in the midst of a fierce conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities; and in, 19:38-42 where he helped Joseph of Arimathea (a secret disciple) bury the body of Jesus. We are reminded in v. 39 that Nicodemus first approached Jesus in the night and here he was at the burial of Jesus, Nicodemus provided an abundant supply of spices with which to use for the body. I envision the act of enveloping Jesus’ body with burial spices then to the burial itself as an act of proclamation by both Nicodemus and Joseph. Is the gospel writer suggesting that Nicodemus moved out of the night shadows of distrust to the bright light of trust? Nicodemus’s appearance throughout the gospel suggests that belief in Jesus is movement, or a journey, if you will. One commentary writer notes: “In the Gospel of John ‘faith’ is never a noun. Believing … is a verb.”

Everyone experiences doubts about the faith at times — “I have” many times, Pope Francis said — but such doubts can be “a sign that we want to know God better and more deeply.” “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith,” the Pope said Nov. 23 at his weekly general audience.

The key, he said, is to see those doubts as a call to deepen one’s faith either through study or through seeking the guidance of another believer. “To do this, it is necessary to listen to the word of God and understand what it teaches us,” he said. “But, at the same time, an equally important path is that of living the faith as much as possible.”

When faith is seen mainly as “an abstract theory,” he said, “doubts multiply.”

But when faith is lived and shown in service to others, the pope said, “then many doubts vanish because we feel the presence of God and the truth of the Gospel in the love that, by no merit of ours, lives in us and that we share with others.”  It is significant that the last time we meet Nicodemus he is providing a service in the burial of Jesus.

This week you can also pray the Via Matris together as a family. Follow the steps here.

Today we will get to know a bit better who Nicodemus is. Nicodemus is described as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of Jews who were very attentive in keeping the Law, and many times they opposed Jesus throughout His ministry. Jesus often condemned them because they were too strict. An interesting fact is that St. Paul was also a Pharisee before his call to follow Jesus.

What we know about Nicodemus is that he was a good man who was looking for the truth. In fact, he went to speak to Jesus one day, and Jesus told him one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. Do you know what Jesus told him? Jesus told Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Did you see it? Did Jesus say only a few will be saved? NO, Jesus says that whoever believes will be saved. Now that is good news!

Nicodemus visited Jesus at night
Nicodemus also helped to bury Jesus in a proper way

We also know that Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews and he was even a type of judge. Do you know what a judge does? He or she takes a decision if someone did something good or bad. In fact, Nicodemus was one of the people who had to decide if Jesus should go in front of Pilate, and we all know what happened when Jesus went in front of Pilate. Pilate send him to be crucified.

But you know what is really good news? Nicodemus in the end believed that Jesus was the son of God. He not only helped to bury Jesus in a proper way but he is also described as a disciple of Jesus, and that means that he truly believed. Wow, that is good news.

Let us ask Jesus to help us believe in Him just as Nicodemus believed in Him.

While drawing the picture of Nicodemus, we think of all those people who do not believe in God. Let us also think of those who because of their doubts are not willing to accept God’s love for them: we say a prayer for them as well so that they too follow these Nicodemus’ example in their own lives.

This is the second figure from Jesus’ Passion that we are discussing during this Lent. Visit the site again next week to learn about other figures, and by the end of Lent you would have the entire scene of Jesus’ crucifixion!

Lent with Father John

Lent with Brother Francis

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