Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Homily at Parish Mass Lent 2 2017

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

Nicodemus “came to Jesus by night”. Picture the scene. No modern urban street lighting, dark streets, dark houses, perhaps a single flickering lamp shedding its light on the two faces bent together, intent in conversation.
Night and darkness have a great dramatic power in John’s Gospel. In his prologue, which announces the Word made flesh, the light of the world, we are told that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
So when John tells us that something happens by night, he’s more than just telling us the time of day. Night has a profound spiritual significance. And John places only two scenes in his gospel at night. This meeting with Nicodemus, and the betrayal by Judas. The night is a time of fear when evil can seem triumphant. If Jesus is the light, then night, in John’s gospel, is symbolic of turning away from the light.
So Nicodemus comes by night, and we are meant to understand the spiritual meaning of this: Nicodemus has yet to realise that Jesus is the light of the world. But it also is a dramatic device: it suggests fear, a furtive meeting, in secret.
But whose fear, and why? Nicodemus was a leader of the people, a member of the religious elite – people who had a position in society and wanted to keep it.  They were on the watch for subversive movements and rebel leaders who might turn the people against them, or against the Roman occupying power, which would be just as dangerous.
So what is going on when Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night? Is he genuinely interested in Jesus? If so he puts himself at risk by visiting him, if he is found out. Or is he a spy sent to find out what Jesus is about and report back? If so, then the meeting is dangerous to Jesus.
And yet Jesus shows no fear. This scene is laden with ambiguity and risk. But Jesus nevertheless imparts to this dubious visitor the heart of his teaching: the need to be “born from above” and share the life of the Spirit. The most famous verse in the Bible, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”, is entrusted to someone whose motives are altogether unclear. And Jesus does this without fear. Why? Because he believes what he is teaching.
He knows that the true secret of his life is “from above”. His is the life of the Spirit, the life of God. The secret of his life is inextinguishable, inexhaustible. And that life is love:
“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.”
This is why Jesus is not afraid. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved. Those who believe in Jesus are saved by being born from above, by being admitted to the secret source of life that is God, eternal, inexhaustible, completely immune to all threats that might be made.
What, then, is there to be afraid of? Nothing. Not even death can take away the secret source of life in God, the life born from above.
Notwithstanding the unknown motives of his guest, Jesus speaks without fear. Notwithstanding what will happen to him on Good Friday, foretold in his saying that the Son of Man must be lifted up, Jesus goes on through his life following his Father’s will to the end. Jesus can live as if death were not, because he knows the secret of his life and being is utterly secure. It is the life of God, which can never be extinguished.
So this scene by night, ambiguous and threat-laden, is a scene in which Jesus nonetheless lives without fear. It is Nicodemus who comes “by night”; the night relates to him, not to Jesus, because Nicodemus is still trapped in the fear of a life bounded by loss and death. And, as a leader of the people, he has more to lose than most – or so he thinks.
I wonder what resonances this scene has for us, if people know that we are Christians and come to us asking, perhaps very tentatively, about our faith. We could be afraid for various reasons: the fear of ridicule, or of being thought odd. The fear perhaps that we might not have the answers they are looking for. Or just old fashioned British embarrassment at talking about religion.
Next time that happens think of this scene, the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. The fear is all on Nicodemus’ side, the enquirer who comes by night. The world we live in is full of fears and anxieties, people live their lives bounded by fear, ultimately the fear of death.
If they come to us as Christians, perhaps it is because they have caught a hint, however remotely, that we are people who have been let in on a secret. That secret is living without fear, because “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”. If that is what your friends are seeking when they come to you “by night”, then tell them about it.
To discuss in twos or threes:
     What are the fears of our own society, and how might they impact on our witness to the Gospel?
•       In our daily lives how can we make known the love of God without fear?

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