April 24th, 2006
Tom Bannantine, S.J.
School of Nursing
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In the gospel story there are some people who are mentioned very
briefly and about whom we would like to know much more than what
the gospel tells us. For me, one such person is Nicodemus, a central
figure in today's gospel reading. Nicodemus is mentioned only in
the gospel of St. John. He refers to Nicodemus on three occasions,
and all three are very brief. We don't know much about Nicodemus,
but we do know a few things. We know that he had a Greek name, Nicodemus,
but we don't know what his Hebrew name was. St. John tells us that
Nicodemus was a pharisee. He was also probably a member of the Sanhedrin,
the ruling council of Israel. So Nicodemus was a man of power and
influence in Jerusalem.
We see Jesus contend with the Pharisees on many occasions during
his travels in Israel. He often takes them to task for their hardness
of heart and for refusing to listen to his teaching and message.
I find that sometimes I have to remind myself that Jesus is not
issuing a blanket condemnation of all of the Pharisees. There certainly
were some of them who did listen to and believe in Jesus. Nicodemus
is one who is mentioned by name in the gospel story who did believe.
This is clear from today's gospel where Nicodemus says: "Rabbi,
we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one
can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him."
But his belief in Jesus puts Nicodemus in opposition to many of
his fellow Pharisees and also to those on the Sanhedrin. So Nicodemus
is not ready to shout from the rooftops his words quoted above.
He is very cautious about stating his belief in Jesus. So much so
that Jesus and possibly some of the apostles are the only ones present
to hear the words of Nicodemus on this occasion. He comes to Jesus
at night. Then as now, the night hours were a time of secrecy. Things
happen in the darkness that cannot stand the scrutiny of the light
of day. For Jesus, the night hours were not only a time of sleep.
They were also a time of prayer. The evangelists tell us of nights
when Jesus retired by himself to a quiet place to pray. Nicodemus
may have come to see Jesus on such a night. Certainly he came at
night to avoid being seen by the crowds which gathered around Jesus
in the daytime. He did not yet have the courage to openly proclaim
his belief in Jesus. He also feared to antagonize the Pharisees
who did not agree with him.
So, the gospel story provides us with a few brief glimpses of Nicodemus.
But it also leaves me with Questions about this man. I wonder what
happened to him after he helped Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus?
Did his belief in Jesus grow? Did he become a christian? According
to tradition the answer to these questions is yes. I find that helpful
because that is how I want his story to end.
to the writer of this reflection.
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