REFLECTION FOR TODAY
April 13, 2021
By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA
Nicodemus answered and said to him, ‘How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.” Jn. 3:9-11
Nicodemus’ question referred to what Jesus had been saying about being born anew: No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. This is an important question for us too – How can we be born from above? Jesus answered Nicodemus that this new life is made possible through the lifting up of the Son of Man. Through the work of the cross, fallen human nature was put to death and through His resurrection, a new humanity was born which we experience through water and the Spirit.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, was an honest seeking of the truth and his search earned him a conversion of being a follower of Jesus. When the many encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees are considered as a whole, it’s clear that there was great resistance among them toward Jesus and His teaching. They were constantly seeking to trap Him and, of course, ultimately were responsible for His death, along with other leading religious leaders from the Sanhedrin.
For that reason, it’s easy to understand that there must have been great pressure upon all the Pharisees to reject Jesus. Each one of them would have felt the power of peer pressure to act in accord with the general view of Jesus’ condemnation. This is the context of our gospel reference today in which Nicodemus questions Jesus. In this conversation in which Jesus says clearly to Nicodemus that the way to Heaven is to be “born from above.” Nicodemus questions how one can “be born again,” and then Jesus issues this apparent criticism of Him in our gospel reference today.
It’s helpful to understand that Jesus’ criticism was not a condemnation of Nicodemus. It was not in the tone of His normal “Woe to you…” statements; rather, it was a gentle but very direct challenge to Nicodemus so as to move him from his questions to faith. And that’s the key. Nicodemus did not come to Jesus to trap and condemn Him like the other Pharisees did. Nicodemus came because he was confused. And most likely, he was confused because he felt great peer pressure from his fellow Pharisees to condemn Jesus.
Understanding this context should help us understand not only the goodness and courage of Nicodemus but also the loving boldness of Jesus. Jesus knew that Nicodemus was open. He knew that Nicodemus could be won over. But Jesus also knew that Nicodemus needed to be challenged in a direct and firm way. He needed a bit of a “holy push” so as to enter into the gift of faith. Of course, Jesus’ challenge ultimately won Nicodemus over.
Reflect, today, upon any way in which you, too, need a “holy push” from our Lord. What form of worldly pressure do you experience in life? Do friends, neighbors, family members or co-workers impose upon you in some way a peer pressure that is contrary to the life of true holiness? If so, ponder the ultimate courage of Nicodemus, Saint Paul and Gamaliel. Let their witness inspire you and allow our Lord to challenge you where you need it the most so that you, too, will receive the “holy push” that you need to be a more faithful follower of Jesus.
My Lord of all strength, You are unwavering in Your determination to challenge me in the area that I need it the most. Help me to receive your gentle rebukes of love when I am weak so that I will have the courage and strength I need to be a faithful follower of You. Give me clarity and understanding, dear Lord, and help me to overcome the misleading pressures of the world. Jesus, I trust in You.