Jesus said to Nicodemus, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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. 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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Today we have an interesting conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. It is interesting because the conversation is conducted at night. It is conducted at night because Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Why he comes to Jesus at night? The gospel tells us that Nicodemus is a leader of the Jews. He is a man of wealth and position. He is also impressed by Jesus’ teaching and miracles. So, we can see that he is in a kind of tension. Then he devices a scheme to come and see Jesus at night so that he would not be seen by his fellow Jews while he would be instructed personally by Jesus at the same time.
Jesus first talks about the rebellions of the Jews against God during their wandering in the desert after the Exodus. God, in one of such occasions, allowed poisonous serpents amongst the Jews and those who were bitten by the serpents died. After the repentance of the Jews, God told Moses to make bronze serpent and to lift it on a pole so that anyone was bitten by the serpent would be immediately healed when looked up at the posted bronze serpent.
Immediately after talking about this historical event narrated in the Book of Numbers 21:4-9, which is familiar to the Jews, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son of man, which is the hidden messianic title that Jesus uses of himself, must be lifted up too in order to give eternal life for all who believe in him. Note “lifted up” means two things in here. First, it refers to Jesus being lifted up on the cross. The second is about the resurrection and ascension of Jesus after dying on the cross.
In effect, Jesus tries to tell Nicodemus his role in God’s salvation for mankind. God love us so much that He sent His only son as man amongst us to live and die for us so that death will not the final end of those who truly believe in Jesus.
Jesus further assures Nicodemus that God did not condemn or punish mankind because the sending of His only Son to us really opens heaven to mankind. So, those who believe Jesus is the Christ is not condemned but those who do not believe Jesus have already condemned because of their unbelief.
In the last part of the gospel, Jesus talks about light and darkness. This part is very revealing not to Nicodemus personally but also to all of us. We note at the tension that Nicodemus experiences at the very beginning of the gospel. That is on the one hand, he wants to continue to be accepted and respected by his fellow Jews; and on the other hand, he is attracted by the “good news” preached by Jesus. Nicodemus wants to have the best of both worlds. So he comes up with a device to come and see Jesus at night with the hope that no his fellow Jews would find out his contact with Jesus. Does this device sound familiar to us?
Like Nicodemus, we are moved by Jesus’ teaching and God’s love but we do not give ourselves fully to God because we fear of losing the approval of our fellow brothers and sisters, their esteem to us and their association with us. This fear keeps us from believing in Jesus, although we might be like Nicodemus, who defended Jesus when the Jews tried to arrest Jesus and helped to give Jesus a proper burial according to the Jewish tradition.
May today’s gospel remind us that it is through Jesus that we have been made sons and daughters of God. It is through him that we have learned to love God and learned of God’s infinite love for us. Amen.