Gospel John 3:16-21
‘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;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’
Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a learned man of faith. He knows both scripture and the Law; he has lived his life by it; a teacher himself - he is a good man. But he has questions. There is something new in what Jesus says and, although the teaching is outside Nicodemus' experience, it has truth in it and he wants to understand; desperately wants to understand.
Jesus tells of when Moses protected the Isrealites from the poisons of snakes sent by God himself. An attempt, by God, to bring them back to him once again.
Of course, this is still early days in the relationship between God and his people; still very much a learning process. But, as in many relationships, if you don't have the right understanding at the beginning, you are going to struggle. It becomes easier to ask for a set of rules; a measuring stick; a sense of either/or. But then it comes down to being 'good' and who can be 'good' enough?
I have met many people like Nicodemus who find this Love idea too good to be true. People whose idea of God is a judgemental father waiting to catch us out; reinforced by spiritual leaders who find the promise of damnation a little too attractive. People whose lives are tormented by the idea that in everything that they do they are found wanting; who can't go to Reconciliation because of the shame of being 'found out' or who constantly go to Confession because they cannot believe they have been forgiven. People who do not realise that the only one who stands in judgement of them - is them.
Cannot believe Jesus' own words;
God so loved the world
That he gave his only Son
So that everyone who believes...may have eternal life
Not to condemn the world but to save it.
Along with every other piece of Lenten scripture this is a journey of transformation - Nicodemus walks away under cover of night in confusion; this is a good thing, a very good thing - the crack in the armour of certainty allows the Light to enter. And we know that this is only the beginning - Nicodemus appears again - a public supporter at the trial; and again - a sorrowful witness at the foot of the Cross.
We are asked to have faith but it cannot be a passive faith. Jesus asks us to be aware of what action our faith calls us to. We must struggle, like Nicodemus, with what we already believe; struggle with the ties that bind us to tradition and convention.
Allow ourselves the freedom to accept the glimpse of light; the invitation of Love; the call to truth.
To have the compassion to take into our arms, into our lives, a God who so loved the world that he gave us himself.