14th March, 2021

Painting of Jesus meeting Nicodemus

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B

Surely, we have all noticed that today’s gospel is very different from the one we heard a week ago. Today we have not heard of any spectacular actions or miraculous signs performed by Jesus, or any surprising behaviour of the Master of Nazareth, but we do witness the meeting and very friendly conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Who was Nicodemus and why did Saint John – among other very interesting events in the life of Jesus – describe in his Gospel this particular encounter? As we know Nicodemus was a very significant figure among the Jewish community. Moreover, he was one of the Pharisees, an expert on Jewish law and a member of the Sanhedrin, the most important court in Jerusalem.

There is also another very significant detail that can help us understand the most important message of this Gospel scene. Well, Nicodemus met Jesus at a very unusual time, that is at night, when all the streets of Jerusalem were surely very quiet, dark and peaceful. As I pondered this gospel a few days ago I wondered why this very mysterious encounter between such a high-ranking Jew and the Master of Nazareth took place in such strange circumstances of the night. Why did Nicodemus choose such a strange meeting time? We can only guess that the darkness of night gave Nicodemus more courage and confidence. Or perhaps – because of his sinful life – he didn’t feel worthy enough to stand before the Master of Nazareth in the light of day, or for other unknown reasons he was very ashamed to meet Jesus’ eyes. Or maybe he didn’t want his friends and other Pharisees to know of his interest in Jesus’ teachings. Or maybe he just met Jesus in such strange circumstances because he was afraid to lose his position and authority among the Jews who were irritated and scandalized by what Jesus used to preach. Why did Nicodemus choose such a strange time? Of course, we do not know the answer to this question and we can only guess and speculate, but maybe it is worth asking ourselves if we are not like Nicodemus sometimes? Are we not like him when we don’t feel confident or worthy enough to stand before the Lord, look deeply into his eyes and talk to him without fear or anxiety, as with someone who always understands both our strengths and weaknesses? Are we not like Nicodemus when we are ashamed to profess our faith in Jesus, or when we prefer to profess that faith in the dark when no one can see and no one can witness our relationship and belonging to him?

We don’t know what caused Nicodemus to meet Jesus during the night. But one thing is for sure, it didn’t matter to Jesus at all. He didn’t ask any questions, he didn’t blame, and he didn’t even analyse what was going on in Nicodemus’ heart and mind. But instead, Jesus revealed to Nicodemus the most beautiful truth and the deepest sense of his coming into the world. Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. No one who believes in him will be condemned…

There is one more thing and detail worth paying attention to. Well, Nicodemus turned out to be a very positive figure of several other gospel scenes that we will listen to and meditate on during Holy Week, and especially on Good Friday. It is he who is one of the few figures who with great courage stayed with Jesus on Calvary until the very end, until His death on the cross. It was he – together with Mary and several other people – who took the dead body of Jesus from the cross to respectfully put it in the tomb. Moreover, it was he who gave Jesus his own tomb, in which – as the gospel says – no one had been buried there before.

Today’s gospel – although it contains no action or spectacular miracles of Jesus – shows us a wonderful example of a man of great ambition who has not been fully satisfied with what he has achieved so far. Neither his career, nor his authority, nor his high position in the Jewish community – at some stage all of this was not enough for him to understand the true meaning of life. We can only imagine that Nicodemus missed and sought something more than what he had already achieved with his own efforts and human skills. Perhaps at times we also experience a similar longing and a similar feeling that something is missing in our lives although everyone around sees and admires our life achievements and happiness. Maybe at such moments it is worth looking at the cross or – like Nicodemus in today’s gospel – approaching Jesus just to realize once again and be delighted once again by this very obvious truth how much we are loved by God, how much God loves our lives and how great is this God’s endless love for each of us.

Fr Gregory