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AHC A Living By The Truth - Hebrew Catholics

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Hebrew Catholics

New Zealand Branch

Living By The Truth

Trinity Year A

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

John 3: 11 — 21

 

Introduction

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]

Click here for a printable copy of our text

Preliminary note:

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.

Stage One

Our faith is founded in the testimony of Jesus
the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ, and in His mercy.

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
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 the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

15    so that everyone who believes in him may have
eternal life.”

•    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.

Stage Two

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
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.

•    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.

Stage Three

 

Our faith in Jesus brings us to the Light of the World who
therefore reveals God to us and empowers us to live by the truth.

This brings us to listen to and understand His words; to see
Jesus as the Son of God, and to be open about our faith in Him

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

Deo Gratias!

Afterthought

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.

 Candles in Scripture

straight nicodemus 2

 Blessed be God’s Most Holy Name.

Blessed be the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Shalom!

 

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Trinity Sunday ― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

Appendix


Candles in Scripture     

The Significance of Lighting Candles at Worship

When the first mobile sanctuary for the Lord was erected at Sinai, the
Tabernacle Services were held in it with lamps burning as commanded by God
in Exodus 40: 5 and 25. This practice was faithfully followed throughout Israel’s
history. In the Holy Place of the Temple, the windows were constructed in such
a way that the light from the Golden Menorah was reflected outwards,
symbolically representing Israel’s vocation to be “a light to the nations”
(Isaiah 49: 6).

Even in synagogues today, a light is always burning in the sanctuary close to
the Ark which contains the Scrolls of Sacred Scripture, symbolising God’s
Presence in His Holy Word.

Christians retained this spiritual understanding of lamps burning before the
Lord. For 2,000 years, these lights have represented Jesus, the Light of the
world: the Light whom they were to carry and share with others. For them,
Jesus was the promised Messiah, the living Son of God.

For us, too, Jesus is the Light of the world: the Light which destroys all
darkness. Jesus Christ is the Torah: the Living Presence of God in the Sacred Scriptures. He is the Word of God (John 1: 1) whose message brings peace and
love to all who will listen to Him, and to those bearing the light of Christ’s
Message. For this reason, we love to acknowledge God’s Presence by lighting
lamps and candles at our worship whether in Church or at home. We are
intensely sorry that many of our sisters and brothers criticise us, for
maintaining this venerable custom — calling it (and us) pagan, unbiblical,
unspiritual, and morbidly ritualistic. Sadly, they do not seem to know the
Biblical meaning of these words.

Christians look upon the candle flame as a symbol of the Presence of the
Holy Spirit who choses to hover in the form of a flame of Light before each
person at Pentecost — and continues to burn in the hearts of Christ bearers
carrying this Light to the ends of the earth.

Shalom!

 

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,
remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating how
you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

Living By The Truth

Trinity Sunday     Year A                   St. John 3: 11 — 21
                                                          (Alternative reading)

1.    As God provided the Israelites with a bronze serpent to look upon, and in
       their obedience, be saved from extinction, so Jesus serves notice that He,
       likewise, must be lifted up for all men to look upon and be saved. It requires
       an act of faith in Jesus to do this: faith in Him as the Anointed One, faith in
       His mercy.

2.    Modern media present particular “snapshots” of Christianity as forbidding
       such and such actions or condemning such and such a person. Our text
       reveals a very different emphasis: our loving Father going to the ultimate
       limits to free us from bondage to enjoy the privileges of eternal life, even in
       this world.

3.    “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly
       seen as done in God.” (John 3: 21). That is, done in obedience to God; in
       union with God. In this reading, and many other passages, our Lord
       encourages us to listen to His teaching, His words, and try honestly to put
       all this into action. This takes great faith, but it also enhances and
       strengthens our faith in the process. He who created light now promises the
       gift of Light — the gift of Himself to all believers.

Let us be especially faithful in praying for one another and doing what we can to
obey our Lord’s commission: to be living examples of His teaching, and thus
making it accessible to all who wish to engage with Him through it.

 

Shalom!

 Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections.  

 

 

“Hail Gladdening Light!”

EVENING HYMN

(At the lighting of the lamps and candles)

 

Verse 1

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!

 

Verse 2 

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.

 

Verse 3

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.

Candles in Scripture

Listen to This Hymn

 

 

 

 John 3: 11 — 21

Trinity Sunday     Year A

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

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
        eternal life.

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) [14] 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) [15] Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.

(7) [16] 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) [19] 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.

 

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