Living the Truth
Lent 4 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 3: 13 — 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 only marvelled. But there was one man Jesus did commit himself to. His name was Nicodemus. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and as a Pharisee he was very much in the minority, being outnumbered by the powerful Sadducees. Nicodemus is often described as not having great strength of character. Such judgment shows little sympathy for his extremely precarious position. He was an honest, candid, inquiring person who wanted to deal openly with the facts. 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. He points to a spiritual kingdom of love where members share in God’s own life. Of course, Nicodemus is somewhat baffled and discovers he has a lot to learn. To his credit he does not hesitate to ask questions. It is a common feature of people who do not understand something, to form a bias which gets in the way of any future spiritual growth. Nicodemus is recognised by Jesus as ready for the most sublime teaching. He is told that entrance into the Kingdom of God is limited to those who “are born of the Spirit”; who share the life of the Holy 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 an answer.
Jesus implies that even a highly (and rightly) esteemed rabbi and teacher of Israel (such as Nicodemus) 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 right or strength. 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.
Some Reflections On the Text
In Verse 11, 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 dispositions to accept the Messiah, now merges into the background of the discourse. The teaching of Jesus is thus presented as it applies to all people. What follows could appear to be a rather formal, profoundly theological comment by Jesus. It may help us to remember that here, Jesus is honouring the wisdom and scholarship operative in Israel, and is showing how it has always pointed to His Coming.
No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come
down from heaven, the Son of Man.
The purpose of this verse is to emphasise the heavenly origin of the Son of Man. St. John is the only one of the Gospel writers to emphasise this truth: it is basic to his theology. (Newman and Nida). Thus, Jesus claims in the prophetic tradition to be alone, the fulfilment of Prophecy, the Revealer of God; and this revelation is now available for all who choose to listen to Him since He is Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so
must the Son of Man be lifted up,
Now Jesus claims to be Redeemer as well as Revealer. The choice of words in the original text to convey being “lifted up” conveys the double meaning of being raised up on the cross, and of being glorified in His resurrection and ascension to the Father. Jesus explains how His followers will be saved from spiritual death. In Numbers 21: 8 (etc) the Israelites will look upon the brass serpent “lifted up” for them to see and will be saved. In the same way, the Son of Man, will be lifted up and be the cause of salvation for those who truly look to Him. Jesus will be raised on the cross in the ultimate suffering but then raised to heaven to sit at the right hand of God: still as our representative. Thus he is not only prophet, but priest as well.
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
The phrase ‘eternal life’ comes from a Hebrew phrase, literally “life in the coming age”. Thus it describes the quality of life one has when God rules in one’s life. (Newman and Nida). 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. As explained, “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 who believe in Him.
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
This verse is a great revelation of the nature of our life with God and a tiny glimpse of the vastness of His love. The purpose of this verse is to indicate that the work of Christ Jesus and the salvation He offers have their origin in the will and action of God Himself (Newman and Nida).
The word used for love by the writer, St. John, was taken from the Greek translation of Deuteronomy 7: 8 and many similar passages. In John 3: 16, God’s love is shown to extend beyond his Chosen People to all humanity, as it always has.
Note: Note: Generally Old Testament quotations in the New Testament
are from the Greek Septuagint, not the Hebrew, and we therefore
(for this, among other reasons) hold it in very high esteem.
Verses 17 and 18
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the
world, but that the world might be saved through him.
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.
Verses 17 and 18 teach that Jesus has been sent into the world to bring eternal life. Failure to believe brings condemnation upon those who have no reason not to believe Him. But, we should note, this is not a condemnation of non-Christians, nor a handy judgment to permit the moralistic consignment to hell of all those who see things differently from us!
Verses 19 — 21
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but
people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does
not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his
works may be clearly seen as done in God.
Those who are looking for the Light of the World will find him, but those who prefer the cover of spiritual darkness will never find him. These three verses are, in a way, a tribute to Nicodemus and all who approach Jesus, in the right spirit of humility and desire to be truly enlightened.
There is a strong belief that those who choose the Lord will enjoy eternal life in this world. This understanding gathers momentum as the lesson progresses.
But to enjoy this eternal life, we are bound to “live by the truth”; or literally, to “do the truth”. Truth does not belong to understanding only, but concerns the will. It requires action — deeds which can be examined under any spotlight without fear. That is the kind of relationship Jesus calls us into: one which we look to Him with total trust, and gain the ever-increasing ability to love as He loves. This is a programme for spiritual growth and we will need to be just as patient with ourselves and our shortcomings, as with others and their failures.
Do people actually choose spiritual darkness? Possibly so. We may choose an easier path which leaves us with wide freedom, rather than “tie ourselves down” to implementing our Lord’s path. But such a path never satisfies deep down, and leaves us drifting.
There is a lot of straight talking here, but it is done to help us “make straight the way of the Lord”. In your reflections (Lectio Divina) you might focus a little while on the reasons Our Lord may have had for being so up front and specific. Most of us learnt John 3: 16 by heart at a very young age. In your meditation group you may not wish to go any further than this beautiful verse and the powerful truths it contains.
A Personal Afterthought
We can well understand the venerable Nicodemus discreetly visiting our Lord “at night”. As one of the most distinguished teachers of Israel he simply had to avoid the vitriolic and harmful comments of gossipers. Also, we could reasonably expect he 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 front up personally to the Lord. He has a statesman-like manner of conducting himself.
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”. Our Lord can see that this elder-statesman is ready for teaching He has not previously revealed to anyone. What follows seems to be a typical rabbi-to-rabbi encounter in which each demonstrates the highest 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, esteemed 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. Nevertheless, Nicodemus is esteemed by the Lord as worthy of being the first recipient of this teaching.
Many scholars tell us that the rest of the text (to verse 21) is from another occasion, and in fact addressed to a group. It would not be unreasonable top take the view that this was originally addressed to Nicodemus and repeated several times later to others. It is fascinating to behold the highly respected Nicodemus arriving in the dark “at night”, being drawn into a most engaging time of literal enlightenment, and then leaving at the high point of Jesus’ teaching about truth and light. The Lord closes with a statement in verse 21 which obviously sums up Nicodemus’ own situation. He has, in his search for truth, come to the Light who has shared that light in all its brilliance as a pure gift of God. It is hardly surprising this 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.
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(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
Living The Truth
Lent 4 Year B John 3: 13 — 21
1. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must
Some writers have mistakenly taught that images have no place in
Jesus reminds His listeners that God gave the Israelites an image
Some Christians love to look at a crucifix to give expressions to this.
2. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so
Many of us learnt this in various translations. It contains a magnificent
May it never stop echoing within our souls.
3. “….. whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that
The venerable Nicodemus lived a devout and holy life — one of the
Our Lord gives us a straight-forward standard by which we can be
We are to dwell with Him, remain in union with
Let us pray for one another to help make this a reality in the Church.
John 3: 13 ― 21
Lent 4 Year B
13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come
14 And just as Moses lifted up 5 the serpent in the desert, so
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
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the
18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever
19 9 And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but
20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does
21 But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works
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