From The American Bible Society:
March 18, 2012
Fourth Sunday of Lent
HOW CAN A GROWN MAN BE BORN AGAIN?
John 3:14-21 (Good News Translation)14 As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. 18 Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son. 19 This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. 20 Those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light, because they do not want their evil deeds to be shown up. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God.
In the fragment of John’s Gospel that we read today, we find a good number of the concepts and terms he constantly uses: light and darkness, this world and heaven, judging and saving. In a sense, Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus presents the kernel of the whole theology of the evangelist. But let us focus on today’s liturgy. The first reading provides us with one example of the relation between sin and punishment that we saw last Sunday. Israel, from its kings and priests down to the common people, has stubbornly rejected the Covenant. They have sinned, refused to listen to the prophets, and thus provoked their own ruin, even the destruction of the Temple. Only out of his merciful compassion, and in order to show that he is faithful to his promises, does God restore the holy city back to life by means of Cyrus, a pagan king. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and “a great teacher in Israel,” represents the link between the Old Testament and the Good News announced by Jesus. He is convinced that in their present situation, just like in that of their ancestors, the Roman rule to which they are subjected is the consequence of their sins. And, like the pious Jews of his generation, he also believes that by the strict and rigid observance of the Law, God will forgive their crimes and restore Israel’s greatness. That is why they consider incredible that, in contrast with the rigorist and barren path they follow, Jesus, who breaks the Law, can bring hope and life to the people by means of his “miracles.” How can that be? The only reason is that he must have been sent by God. Nicodemus’ words recall those of the blind man: “Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing” (John 9:33). Just as we saw last Sunday in the discussion about the Temple, the sacrifices and the old religious approach to faith, we also find here the need to discover and accept the newness of the Gospel. To understand Jesus’ mission and God’s plans, it is necessary to see reality from a new perspective, under a new light, looking at things as a new born baby: “Unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom…” (Matthew 18:3). The real sin of Israel’s religious leaders, and of those observant of the Law, is not their way of life. They take seriously all the precepts and regulations of the Torah. No reproach can be made against their “impeccable” moral way of life, both public and private. Their real sin, in fact, is they believe and trust in their own justice. They think that by their punctilious observance of all the precepts and norms, God will be “obliged” to restore them. No. Jesus’ message is quite different. Salvation is not a reward. It does not have its origin in human sanctity or justice, but in God’s merciful and saving love. It is not the fruit of our worldly, human efforts, but the result of our faithful and obedient response to the Spirit. John’s baptism could not save, for it relied on human repentance. It is only by means of faith and baptism in the Spirit that we can have eternal life. That means stepping out of the darkness and entering the light of life, Jesus himself, “the Light of the world.” That implies recognizing that: “It is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts but God’s gift” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
With all the assets and flaws that it entails, we are heirs to the Jewish, (more than that, the Pharisaic) religious tradition and mentality. Are you conscious of the feeling of “commercial” reciprocity that so often underlies our approach to religious life? Forget the special resonances that the phrase may evoke, and ask yourself to which extent you are a “new born” Christian. How has your relation to Jesus transformed your behavior, your mentality and understanding of life? Jesus’ exaltation to glory means being raised to a cross, assuming the human condition of a criminal. Can you lift your eyes up to the crucified Christ and find in him the glory which only God can give?
Pray for those (including yourself) who feel disappointed when the tragic facts of life seem to contradict God’s saving grace, that they may make sense of and find hope in those paradoxes. Pray that the Lord may give you an open and obedient mind to accept the force of the Spirit acting in you, and in others, as he wishes. Give thanks that you have been the object of God’s love, who gave his Son for your salvation.
Believing in Christ and allowing the Spirit to give us new birth, means stepping out of the darkness and entering the light. Read 1 John 2:7-11, and examine yourself to see if there are “dark spots” of indifference, coldness or even resentment that you keep against anyone around you. See how you can bring Jesus’ light to that dimension of your life.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón Director of Inter-Religious Affairs Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain