March 5, 2023
Revised Common Lectionary
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 (22)
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
On this second Sunday of our Lenten journey, the Gospel reading recalls a famous meeting at night between Jesus and Nicodemus. This conversation is the first of four such encounters that we will be reflecting on over the course of four Sundays, with each one delving just a little deeper into our call to baptismal discipleship.
Nicodemus is famous as the disciple who came to Jesus by night, but the Gospel doesn’t tell us much more about him. John identifies Nicodemus both as a Pharisee and as a member of the Sanhedrin, a council of Jewish religious leaders which was dominated by the rival Sadducees. His support for the mission of Jesus would likely have put him at some risk, given the fierce opposition that Jesus’ teachings were generating among other members of the Sanhedrin, where Nicodemus was already part of a minority group.
Nicodemus will make two other appearances in the Gospel of John, each one representing a new step in his own journey of discipleship. A few chapters after his nighttime conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus speaks up for him—timidly—to a group of Pharisees, arguing that the law does not judge people without giving them a hearing (see Jn 7:50-52). He doesn’t give full outward expression to his discipleship, however, until the death of Jesus, when he and Joseph of Arimathea, another secret disciple, let go of their fear to take the body, wrap it, and place it in the tomb along with a hundred pounds of spice (see Jn 19:38-40).
In the conversation that we hear in today’s Gospel, Nicodemus shows how little he really understands who Jesus is and what his message means. Jesus responds rather sternly to Nicodemus’s questions, then goes on to teach that he will be “lifted up” so that those who believe may have eternal life. Significantly, it is only after Jesus has been lifted up on the cross that Nicodemus is emboldened to show his discipleship openly.
I’m guessing that many of us learned from our parents that one should not speak of religion or politics in polite company. We live in a pluralistic society where freedom of religion is a cherished value, and rightly so. Yet pluralism does not require us to live in a religious closet. The question posed to us today concerns the extent to which we are willing to be identified as disciples of Christ by those with whom we live and work and relate in our daily lives. The twentieth century American pastor and preacher David Otis Fuller posed the question this way: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Nicodemus is portrayed in today’s Gospel as someone who wanted to hedge his bets on that question. It was not until he witnessed Jesus lifted up, when water flowed from his side and he breathed out the Spirit upon us, that Nicodemus finally came forward to reveal his discipleship publicly.
In baptism we were, as Jesus taught Nicodemus, reborn from above. We received this gift not merely for ourselves, but in order that all may have a part in the life that Jesus came to share in abundance. Like Nicodemus, we are called to come out of the discipleship closet, to let others see us as followers of Jesus, and to be witnesses that “God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16).
A Hymn for Today: “Womb of Life and Source of Being”
This hymn by Ruth Duck, FHS, celebrates the life-giving presence and action of the Triune God: the Womb of life who has “worlds awakened”; our brother Jesus, whose dying and rising brings us “second birth”; and the brooding Spirit who aids “the birthing of the new world yet to be.” Duck’s rich use of biblical images provides an apt poetic sung response to the message of today’s Gospel reading during this season of baptismal preparation and remembrance. We have been “born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5) through the gracious act of God, who “gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
To hear this hymn sung to a tune by Skinner Chavez-Melo, click here.
Womb of life and source of being,
home of every restless heart,
in your arms the worlds awakened;
you have loved us from the start.
We, your children, gather ‘round you,
at the table you prepare,
Sharing stories, tears, and laughter,
we are nurtured by your care.
Word in flesh, our brother Jesus,
born to bring us second birth,
you have come to stand beside us,
knowing weakness, knowing earth.
Priest who shares our human struggles,
Life and Life and Death of Death,
risen Christ, come stand among us,
send the Spirit by your breath.
Brooding Spirit, move among us;
be our partner, be our friend.
When our memory fails, remind us
whose we are, what we intend.
Labor with us; aid the birthing
of the new world yet to be,
free of servant, lord, and master,
free for love and unity.
Mother, Brother, holy Partner;
Father, Spirit, Only Son:
we would praise your name forever,
one-in-three and three-in-one.
We would share your life, your passion,
share your word of world made new,
ever singing, ever praising,
one with all, and one with you.
Text: Ruth Duck, b. 1947. © 1992, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tunes: LADUE CHAPEL, RAQUEL, HYMN TO JOY, IN BABILONE
Image Credit: Born Again, Lauren Wright Pittman, 2016
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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