Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
2nd Sunday of Lent
John 3.1-17 :
Meeting in Secret
For this and subsequent weeks of Lent,
Gospel readings are from John (See notes)
Begin by using the Method as outlined
Have you ever come across, or heard about, anybody through whom God seems to have been doing ‘miraculous things’?
Did you try and find out more about them, and what had been going on?
If you did, describe the experience.
If you haven’t yet followed your curiosity, share the reasons why not.
Most important of all, did it change your way of thinking and living?
Reflection on the text
Nicodemus is a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, a ‘Law Lord’ of his day. He puts his reputation on the line in seeking out Jesus under the cover of darkness.
John’s summary of their conversation is fascinating.
Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus has been sent by God. High praise, indeed, from a Pharisee, and a generous opening to their conversation.
Jesus responds saying that to ‘see’ the kingdom of God he needs to be ‘born from above’. Nicodemus doesn’t know what to make of it. But the fact that he has already made the connection between God’s hand at work and Jesus’ miraculous deeds (v2) suggests that he is on the way to being ‘reborn’.
Jesus’ next challenge (v5) focuses on all that a Pharisee believed and did. Establishing his own agenda, God’s kingdom on earth, he goes right to the heart of the matter, namely God’s love for the world, and the lengths God is prepared to go to for the sake of Creation.
There is no sign here that Nicodemus is changed by the encounter, but John 7v50, 51 and 19v39 suggests a lasting impact. Clearly, at some point, he came into the light in a way that must have impacted on his family, the Sanhedrin and his status in Jerusalem society.
- Imagine for a minute that you are Nicodemus;
- What would your family say if they knew that you had been to meet Jesus?
- What effect would such knowledge have on fellow Sanhedrin members and fellow Pharisees, and upon your relationship with them?
- How might you encourage and support each other in growing to meet those challenges in the various contexts of your lives?
- Verses 14 and 15 point to the fact that Christ was victorious over the powers of evil on the cross, powers that steal life from individuals, communities and nations, powers that oppress and crush the human spirit. His death brings about the possibility of liberation from human imprisonment in living hells and healing to those whose spirit is broken. Entry into the death and resurrection of Christ, ‘being born from above’, is the gateway to freedom.
- What patterns of life do we (society and church) need to die to or be liberated from in order to enter into the Way of Christ – that is, to have eternal life (‘see’ the kingdom of God)? Individually? Collectively?
Pray for each other, recalling particularly the personal challenges that have been revealed.
Say together the Methodist Covenant Prayer in its communal form:
Lord, we are no longer our own, but yours.
Put us to what you will, rank us with whom you will;
put us to doing, put us to suffering;
let us be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let us be full, let us be empty, let us have all things,
let us have nothing.
We freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Trinity of Love,
you are ours and we are yours. Amen.
More background information
- Theologians are inclined to interpret this passage against a recognisable style of writing that is repeated within John’s Gospel: an enquirer says something to Jesus; Jesus replies with a saying that is hard to understand and is misunderstood by the enquirer; Jesus follows up with an even more difficult saying. This study tries to reach beyond that stylised form to the human encounter that is timeless and repeated in each enquirer, then and now.
- The name Nicodemus appears in the earlier (63BC) and later history (70AD) of Jerusalem. In both cases the family member is sent as an ambassador from the Jewish leadership to the Roman leaders in a time of conflict. So it is quite possible that this man, besides being a member of the Sanhedrin, is the senior member of one of Jerusalem’s most highly respected aristocratic families. It’s interesting to note that Nicodemus follows his family’s ambassadorial calling by going to Jesus.
- He must surely have been quite an open-minded person, willing to follow his curiosity; courageous, too, in facing a radical teacher who had been very critical of Pharisees as a group and who was surrounded by a motley collection of disciples. He might have been something of a risk-taker and entrepreneur willing to incur the wrath of fellow members of the Sanhedrin. Not surprising then that he chose to go under cover of darkness!
- As a Pharisee, he was a member of a brotherhood of men dedicated to interpreting the Law; that is the little rules and regulations of life that ensured that a Jew did not break any of the foundational Ten Commandments in any way. So to be a Pharisee was to be a lawyer, involved in the precise definition and interpretation of rules – in other words, a fastidious meticulous person, not the most likely personality to go enquiring of a rebellious preacher.
- He was a senior Pharisee, a representative on its High Sanhedrin. Each city had a lesser Sanhedrin of 23 members, but the High Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was a larger body of 71, in legal matters equivalent to our House of Lords, the final court of appeal and in national matters, the only body which could try the King. It was also the final arbiter in matters of religious belief and practice; in Anglican religious terms we might see it as the Archbishop’s Council.
Some background material for understanding the Gospel of John.
The Gospel of John was written towards the end of the first century AD, by someone who is referred to as ‘the beloved disciple’. It is likely that this person was one of the three disciples who were very close to Jesus, namely Peter, James and John. John is the most likely, later describing himself as an eye witness to all that Jesus did (1 John 1 v1) .
The purpose of the book is found in Chapter 20 v 30-31. ‘These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’.
The gospel is organised around seven specific signs which John has chosen out of many possibilities, to challenge readers to consider who Jesus is. Those seven signs are: Changing water into wine, the healing of the royal official, the healing of the lame man, the feeding of the five thousand, walking on water, the healing of the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus. John believes that these signs are proof that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The Greek title ‘Christ’ is equivalent to the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’, which means the anointed one. Anointing sets someone apart for a specific purpose, but whereas others who were anointed fulfilled their work and then died, John claims that Jesus has been anointed by God to deal with human sin forever. (Return to Bible Reflection)