The Second Sunday in Lent; Year A (3/16/2014)

Texts:Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 St. John 3:1-17

Prayer of the Day: O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism you bring us to new birth to live as your children. Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your Spirit we may lift up your life to all the world through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3.1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 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.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 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.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 ”Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 ”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the

world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

St. John 3:1-17, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Who Was Nicodemus?

I had an interesting conversation with a group of Pastors last week about Nicodemus. We were trying to understand exactly what his attitude is towards Jesus; or more precisely: what his own level of interest and commitment to Jesus might be.

On the one hand, it seems as though he is being somewhat cowardly: unwilling to be seen publicly with Jesus and sneaking out to see him in the dark. Nicodemus seems to be a man with considerable influence and stature in first century Jerusalem social, political and religious circles. Why is he pandering to those who are against Jesus? Why doesn't he have the courage of his own convictions? After all, Jesus spends a great deal of time in public places. If Nicodemus is that curious about who Jesus is, and what he is doing, couldn’t he simply take Jesus aside one day and ask him what he wants to know? Or at least take a spot nearby as Jesus teaches in the Temple? Does his fear of the crowd prevent him from getting too close?

On the other hand, it seems as though Nicodemus is taking a considerable risk to meet with Jesus. Certainly he could monitor reports from a distance, and learn as much about Jesus as he needs to know by asking others what they are seeing and hearing. (Perhaps even sending a servant or a slave who could take notes for him on what Jesus is saying and doing…) Yet Nicodemus takes the extraordinary risk of meeting him. With a majority of the ruling leaders determined to do away with Jesus, it could be the end of it all for Nicodemus to be spotted with him. It is such a risky proposition, that he doesn’t dare try it during daytime when he would surely be seen by others. Instead, he makes his way to Jesus under cover of darkness. Does his deep interest in Jesus cause him to take risks that others are unwilling to take, in order to talk with him?

St. John seems intentionally vague about this question. (None of the other Gospel writers even mentions Nicodemus. John only returns to him at 7:50 and 19:39, so there is very little other information to consider.) Is Nicodemus  a cautious crowd-follower, or a courageous truth-seeker? It wouldn’t have been hard for John to give us just a bit more information and clarify the issue for us. But perhaps he leaves this door open intentionally. Perhaps he describes Nicodemus this way in order to help us identify with him; those of us who are cautious crowd-followers, and those of us who are bold truth-seekers.

After all, the question isn’t whether or not Nicodemus is too afraid of the crowd to give them any chance to suspect he might be a follower of Jesus. The question is whether or not we are. The question isn’t whether or not Nicodemus is serious enough about Jesus to risk it all to be in his presence. The question is whether or not we are.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are the realities preventing Nicodemus from approaching Jesus publicly?
  2. Why is Nicodemus so interested in meeting personally with Jesus?
  3. At the end of this part of the story, does Nicodemus look like a follower of Jesus?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Do I think of myself as a cautious crowd-pleaser or a bold truth-seeker?
  2. Do others see me as a cautious crowd-seeker or a bold truth-seeker?
  3. When have I taken personal risks in order to be true to Jesus?