Living By The Truth
Trinity Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
John 3: 11 — 21
Jesus Converses With Nicodemus.
After the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus carried out many miraculous deeds. He would not “trust himself” to the many people who marvelled. But there was one man Jesus did commit himself to. His name was Nicodemus. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and although a distinguished Pharisee and scribe, he was very much in the minority among the powerful Sadducees. Nicodemus is often described as not having great strength of character. Such judgement shows little sympathy for his extremely precarious position. He was an honest, candid, inquiring person who wanted to deal openly with the facts about Jesus. He did not share the prejudices of his own class. He was in fact the very quintessence of Judaism. Eventually, despite all dangers, he became a disciple of the Lord. It is worth reading the opening section of Chapter 3 to learn from Jesus as he answers the real questions in the heart of Nicodemus. In their discussion Jesus quickly takes the initiative and directs attention to some key understandings: what really is the kingdom of God and who are the true subjects who have a right to enter? He points to the need of second birth so that a person might partake of the very life of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This underpins the whole of our text.
He points to a spiritual kingdom of love where members share by faith in God’s own life. Of course, Nicodemus asks how this can occur.
He is told that entrance into the Kingdom of God is conditional to their being born of water and Spirit. For now all Nicodemus can do is ask Jesus, “How can these things be?
This is the moment Jesus has been drawing His visitor towards, and all that follows up to verse 21 is in fact His answer.
Jesus implies that even a highly (and rightly) esteemed rabbi and teacher of Israel will not find the answers anywhere except in Him. Jesus has given a new disclosure of the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can acquire this by their own strength or intellect.
The revelation of God in the Gospel is not the result of human thought or effort. Jesus claims, therefore, to be, alone, the revealer of God. In doing so he claims the office of prophet, for he opens heaven.
Our reading begins as Jesus shifts the emphasis and focus from the Kingdom to the King. [These Reflections have drawn from a wide range of sources, but were guided particularly by James McPolin, S. J. in his book “John” 1979]
In verses 11 and 12 the plural pronouns used indicate a change from one-to-one discussion to general teaching addressed to readers. Nicodemus who alone, of all the Jewish leaders showed the right disposition to accept the Messiah, now fades from the discourse. There are varying opinions as to whether it is our Lord actually speaking, or St. John recording the Lord’s teaching. Either way, we are given access to a magnificent passage explaining what we must know about true faith. The teaching of Jesus is now presented as it applies to all people. This means that in verse 12, our Lord is not referring to Nicodemus as believing or not believing. Rather, He is using a general plural “you”. This has the effect of saying to all readers “You will all struggle to let go of human reasoning and allow yourselves to be equipped for spiritual understanding. This is your chance to learn what real faith is like.” This faith Jesus is talking about is “unpacked” by Him in three stages. We will focus on each of these in turn.
Our faith is founded in the testimony of Jesus
Verses 11 — 15
11 Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and
we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept
12 If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe,
how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has
come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 so that everyone who believes in him may have
• Jesus, alone, is the Revealer of God. Heaven was His home, and therefore the Son of Man (as He calls Himself) can, alone, talk of heavenly things.
• As the One who knows God perfectly, He alone can communicate to the disciple, the intimacy He experiences with the Father.
• Jesus can therefore talk to the disciple about the life of faith: He can talk about matters relating to God, as well as Himself.
• The revelation Jesus is talking about, is focussed on its highest point: His exhaltation on the Cross.
It would pay us to review Numbers 21: 4 — 9 and Wisdom 16: 6 and 7.
Why did Jesus make this comparison?
Recall, Moses lifted up the image of the serpent on a pole so that those bitten by poisonous snakes might see and be cured.
So here Jesus is “lifted up” as though a king on the cross where He is a source of saving life for the person who believes in Him.
• Faith in Jesus Christ is looking to him as the one given by God for our saving from the powerful grip of sin. Faith in Him therefore brings life. Eternal life is simply the life in communion with the Eternal one. “Eternal” does just not mean “endless”, but “belonging to the world to come”. This is the basis on which Jesus allows Himself to be seen as a King. He is a king who gives life to His subjects by giving His life for theirs. Risen and reigning at God’s right hand, He dispenses the gifts of His ministry to all that believe in Him.
|Our faith enables us to see God as He really is:
yearning to share His own eternal life with humanity.
We receive Jesus as the means by which we enter into
life-giving communion and thereby share God’s own life and love.
Verses 16 — 18
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but
might have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to
condemn the world, but that the world might be saved
18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but
whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
• The emphasis is that the manifestation of God’s love for the world is not directed towards judgement or condemnation but towards salvation of those who believe in God the Son.
• The faith Jesus teaches about must be genuine faith in Him and not preoccupied in seeking signs and wonders. (John 2l: 23 and John 3: 18), though these may be given.
• Most of us learn John 3: 16 off by heart at some time or other. We also need to remember that it teaches that the work of Christ and the salvation He offers have their origin in the Divine Will and action of God Himself. Jesus always taught that what He did was in obedience to what His Father commanded.
• The person who understands what this teaching means, and what God is offering, yet chooses to reject Jesus, brings his or her own condemnation. The passage talks about the wilful unbelief of those who have no reason not to believe in Him. It is not, however, a condemnation of non-Christians.
• Jesus calls us to give ourselves to Him and accept Him just the way He revealed Himself.
Our faith in Jesus brings us to the Light of the World who
Verses 19 — 21
19 And this is the verdict, that the light came into the
world, but people preferred darkness to light, because
their works were evil.
20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the
light and does not come toward the light, so that his
works might not be exposed.
21 But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
• The coming of the Light of the World brings a two-sided response: the majority remain unbelieving while a minority believes in Him.
• If we have faith in Jesus we seek more and more of His words, take them in, and nurture the truth they contain. The more we do this, the more this truth is manifest in our day-to-day lives by our enthusiastic obedience.
• Truth does not belong to understanding only, but concerns the will. It requires action: works (verse 21) which can be examined under any spotlight without fear. That is the kind of relationship Jesus calls us into: one in which we look to Him with total trust, and gain the ever-increasing ability to love as He loves.
• There will be those who are given the opportunity to hear and embrace His teaching, but who will remain unconverted. They do not really want to be changed, and do not really seek salvation. On the contrary, they wish, by whatever means, to bring pressures on others to conform to their materialistic schemes. Through prayer and meditation we will be empowered to carry on our own witness to the better way as offered by Jesus, our Messiah.
• There is a strong belief that those who choose the Lord will enjoy eternal life, even in this world. This understanding gathered momentum as the lesson progressed.
Most of us would agree that the passage on which we have been reflecting is rather challenging. It could hardly be any other way, given that God the Son is, in a few verses, describing for us just what faith in Him really means. It will take much reflection for the lessons to unfold. We may even find we approach the reading best by focussing on just one of the divisions at a time.
Whatever method we use, we can be certain that out of it all we will be left with a solid conviction that God is indeed a loving Father who will not rest until He has reached the heart of every person and offered them a choice of life with Him for eternity.
We can well understand the venerable Nicodemus discreetly visiting our Lord “at night”. As one of the senior teachers of Israel he simply had to avoid the vitriolic and harmful comments of gossipers. But one suspects he also wanted Jesus to be alone. He wanted to talk heart-to-heart and truly confront important issues. He did not wish to be an anonymous member of a crowd, but to front up personally to the Lord.
Nicodemus is granted his wish. “I tell you the truth”, says Jesus, “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Or, more to the point: born from above). Our Lord can see that this elder-statesman is ready for teaching He has not previously revealed to anyone. What takes place seems to be a typical rabbi-to-rabbi encounter in which each demonstrates a high level of respect for the other. When Nicodemus asks, “How can this be?” (a perfectly reasonable question after all!) Jesus seems to tease him just a little, saying in effect: “Well now, Elder Teacher of Israel, are you telling me you don’t understand these very basic things”. This is certainly not a put-down. On the contrary, Our Lord is actually affirming Nicodemus’ humility and hunger for a vision of the truth. What follows from the Lord is beyond any human mind to fully comprehend. Many scholars tell us that the rest of the text (to verse 21) is from another occasion, and in fact addressed to a group. There is also a well-established view that this was originally addressed to Nicodemus and repeated several times later to others. Most of us feel the need to go over these deep matters several times, and the disciples were no different.
It is fascinating to behold the highly esteemed Nicodemus arriving in the dark “at night”, being drawn into a most engaging time of literal enlightenment, and then departing back into the night at the high point of Jesus’ teaching about Truth and Light. Without realising that he has been changed, he goes forth to spread this new Light. The Lord closes with a statement in verse 21 which obviously sums up Nicodemus’ own situation — “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”. He has, in his search for truth, come to the Light who has shared His Light, that is, Himself, as a pure gift of God. It is hardly surprising this great man became a committed follower of Jesus; and his family, prominent members of the infant Church after our Lord’s death and resurrection.
Blessed be God’s Most Holy Name.
Blessed be the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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The Significance of Lighting Candles at Worship
When the first mobile sanctuary for the Lord was erected at Sinai, the
Even in synagogues today, a light is always burning in the sanctuary close to
Christians retained this spiritual understanding of lamps burning before the
For us, too, Jesus is the Light of the world: the Light which destroys all
Christians look upon the candle flame as a symbol of the Presence of the
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Living By The Truth
Trinity Sunday Year A St. John 3: 11 — 21
1. As God provided the Israelites with a bronze serpent to look upon, and in
2. Modern media present particular “snapshots” of Christianity as forbidding
3. “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly
Let us be especially faithful in praying for one another and doing what we can to
“Hail Gladdening Light!”
(At the lighting of the lamps and candles)
Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glo – ry poured
Who is the immortal Fa – ther, heaven – ly, blest,
Ho – li – est of Ho – lies, Je – sus Christ our Lord!
Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,
The lights of eve – ning round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son, and Ho – ly Spi – rit di – vine.
Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
With un – de – fil – ed tongue,
Son of our God, gi – ver of life, a – lone:
There – fore in all the world thy glo – ries, Lord, they own.
3rd century, or earlier.
Translated from the Greek by J. KEBLE.
John 3: 11 — 21
Trinity Sunday Year A
11 Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify
to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.
12 If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you
believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down
from heaven, the Son of Man.
14 And just as Moses lifted up (5) the serpent in the desert, so must
the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 (6) so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave (7) his only Son, so that
everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn (8) the
world, but that the world might be saved through him.
18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever
does not believe has already been condemned, because he has
not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
19 (9) And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but
people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does
not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.
21 But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works
may be clearly seen as done in God.
(5)  Lifted up: in ⇒ Numbers 21:9 Moses simply “mounted” a serpent upon a pole. John here substitutes a verb implying glorification. Jesus, exalted to glory at his cross and resurrection, represents healing for all.
(6)  Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.
(7)  Gave: as a gift in the incarnation, and also “over to death” in the crucifixion; cf ⇒ Romans 8:32.
(8) [17-19] Condemn: the Greek root means both judgment and condemnation. Jesus’ purpose is to save, but his coming provokes judgment; some condemn themselves by turning from the light.
(9)  Judgment is not only future but is partially realized here and now.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
(c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C.
and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part
of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in
writing from the copyright owner.