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There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by 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 do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
He came to Jesus by night.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, appears three times in the gospel narrative: in today’s reading; defending Jesus in the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council); and assisting Joseph of Arimathea in the burial of Jesus’ crucified body. Despite the obvious significance of his later appearances, there is an important lesson for us to learn from Nicodemus’ first encounter with Jesus.
John begins by telling us of a conversation between the inquisitive Pharisee and Jesus. However, that conversation soon develops into something different: a discourse on the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of true disciples. John does not record Nicodemus’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching at this point in his gospel, but we do come to see the power of its impact as he more publicly supported Jesus towards the close of his earthly ministry.
As a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus was a high ranking member of the Jewish religious elite. As a member of this influential coterie Nicodemus was both cautious and diplomatic. He clearly knew of Jesus’ growing reputation, and he recognized that the new movement that was growing around Jesus was from God. And yet, despite this ‘certainty’, Nicodemus first came to Jesus by night, that is in secret, away from the prying eyes of the religious establishment.
So often we are like Nicodemus in the way we live out our Christian faith. We hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and we become inquisitive. As we learn more our relationship with him deepens and our certainty of his power to save grows. As we journey through these times something less positive grows as well: our awareness of how critical those who are not on the same journey can be. Our need for affirmation and acceptance keeps us in a relationship with God that only seems to flourish under the cover of darkness.
As faithful disciples of Christ we will find ourselves being called to make the transition into apostleship. An apostle is one who steps into the spotlight and shares the love of Christ with others. It does not matter how certain we may feel in our faith. If we ignore the call to share that faith we are standing in the way of Christ’s mission to the world … a mission founded in Christ’s own, very public, death and resurrection.
So, let us pray for the strength to use the faith that was planted and nurtured in our hearts to take the light of Christ out into the world that we may dazzle all we meet with it.