If a person, let us call him Jack, were looking at a sunset and then his friend were to ask him, “Jack isn’t this sunset so stunningly beautiful?” What if Jack says, “What’s wrong with you . . . I personally think there is nothing great about the sunset . . . I don’t see what is so beautiful about it!” What if Jack's friend then play some beautiful Beethoven and Gregorian chants for him to hear, and again Jack remarks, “Such music is so boring!” Is the problem the sunset or the music or is the problem Jack?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the beauty, power and perfection of God and the truth of the Gospels are there for us and every person to accept, and find joy and fulfilment in life. We may choose to marvel and rejoice in the Truth of the Gospel that offers eternal life or like Jack, we may say, “there is nothing beautiful about the Truth of the Gospel or what Jesus has proclaimed in the Gospel is boring.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world so much that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him my not be lost, but have eternal life . . . but, those who refuses to believe is condemned already.” But, if we are like Jack, then even as God has so loved us and continues to love us, we will still be confused and lost in this world, like Jack. . . we will continue to make daily choices that will bring condemnation upon ourselves. It is not that God has condemned us; it is not that the sunset is not beautiful, but if we are like Jack, then it is us who has a distorted perception and meaning of life and the Truth of the Gospel.
God’s love for us and all of mankind is always unconditional, beautiful and merciful. God will always be there for us and will never fail us. Today’s First Reading highlights how the history of Israel is so often filled with chaos, confusion and self-condemnation; the Jews suffered a collapse at the hands of a foreign power and were deported to exile . . . today’s Psalms tells us, “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept (Psalm 136:1). However, just when it seemed, as if all were over for them, King Cyrus of Persia, inspired by God, not only released the Israelites from exile, but helped them rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem, in Judah. God never fails; His Compassionate Mercy will always be there to protect and provide for us; His providence will always unveil His Will for us, if only we dare to trust God more and not be absorbed by the confusion and overwhelmed by the crises of our lives . . . This is precisely why Jesus in today’s Gospel continues to remind us that “God truly loves us so much that He has sent His only Son to save us . . . but, we must open our hearts to believe in this Truth of Salvation . . . and not distort this Truth, like Jack, through the shadows and darkness of our lives . . .
If we are in darkness, if we are experiencing much pain in life that has distorted our perceptions of how much God loves us, then we are called to open our minds to the Light of God’s Truth and open our hearts to the transforming grace of God. Unless we cooperate and come forward to want to experience a conversion of heart . . . we will remain in the shadows and sadness of life like Jack; we are called to be more like Nicodemus in today’s Gospel.
Nicodemus was an expert in the law and probably a member of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court at the time of Jesus. He was a good man; an honest searcher of the truth. But, because of his high-profile profession, he did not want to risk damaging his reputation by being seen in public with the controversial Jesus. And so, he came to consult Jesus at night (Jn 3:2). In this he showed himself to be a bit of a coward, but understandably so. However, Nicodemus did come and consult Jesus, which proves his basic good will.
Later in the Gospel of John, we meet Nicodemus again; this time he is more daring. When his fellow Pharisees tries to arrest Jesus, he exposes himself to shame, and defended Jesus at the hearing. (Jn 7:50-51). From a night visitor, Nicodemus has gone one step further, to a daytime defender of Jesus, at least indirectly. In his final appearance in the Gospel, Nicodemus comes forward publicly with myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body, when it was taken down from the Cross. In short, because Nicodemus followed his conscience and acted honesty as he could, “doing what is true,” in the words of Jesus, Nicodemus “came to light”; he came to discover the truth . . .
Some years ago, I anointed someone whom we could call Dave. Dave was very sick in bed; he told me, “Father, I have over the past 70 years of my life, not known Jesus. I have been very successful in my career, but it was all me! me! me! Over the past several years of my illness . . . while lying on my bed . . . helpless and feeling hopeless . . . I have come to know the person of Jesus more personally and intimately; my illness has been worthwhile . . . and it is truly beautiful . . . I now feel Jesus very close to my heart . . . caring and loving me . . . it is over the past two years of my illness . . . that I have come to know how much Jesus truly loves me . . . and have been caring for me and providing for me all the years of my life. . . my success was actually not me . . . it was Jesus living within me . . .”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let ask ourselves, “Is my present life one of joy, peace and fulfilment in the Lord? Do I find Jesus as in today’s Gospel, truly a God who loves me so much that He has sent His Son to save me and all of humankind? If so, we should truly give thanks and praise to God for the gift of faith, hope and love for Him.
But, if we are living in the shadows and darkness of our confusing, complex and crises filled life, like Jack, then Jesus is inviting us as he had invited Nicodemus, to come out into the Light of His Truth . . . we are called to open our hearts to His Compassionate Love as Dave did in his illness . . . and if we do, we will surely discover how beautifully perfect and personal Jesus is to us . . . And if we daily live with greater Trust in Him, then like the Jews in today’s First Reading . . . We will also find that God, in Jesus will never fail us . . . for He will always love us, fully and unconditionally. . . as St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, in today’s Second Reading says, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live joyfully.”
(cf. Heart Burning, by Nil Guillemette, St Pauls Philippines: 2006: p.185) (cf. His Word Lives, by Vima Dasan, St Pauls India: 1999; p. 208.)
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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