March 16, 2002 – Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent
Monastery of Makkiyad, Kerala, India
Saint John has the gift to end a narrative with a very short phrase that seems unimportant but that is pregnant with a deep symbolic meaning. Here are a few examples. At the beginning of the Gospel, when he tells of the first encounter of the disciples with Jesus, he concludes saying "It was four o'clock in the afternoon". Likewise in the narrative of the Last Supper, after Judas' departure, John concludes with : "It was night". Likewise, in the text that we just read, after the description of the discussion of the crowd and of the Pharisees about Jesus, he says : "Each one went off to his own house".
That reminds us that only Jesus can be the basis of our communion and unity. We are really united only if we are united in his name. When people refuse Jesus' message of love, when they don't accept his call to conversion, then they are divided among themselves and return "each one to his own house", taking care of their own personal affairs, and preparing new confrontations and divisions.
The crowds are divided : some pay attention to Jesus' words and say that he must be a prophet, or even "the" prophet. Others, claiming to know the Scriptures, affirm that the Messiah cannot come from Galilee. As for the soldiers sent to arrest him, they are simple people who can only acknowledge that "No man ever spoke like that before" and they return without arresting him.
As for the chief priests and the Pharisees, they are not divided. They are all against him… except for one, Nicodemus. This Nicodemus is an interesting figure whom we meet three times in the Gospel. He is a very honest man, seeking the truth and concerned about justice. He is one of the elders of the people and is not called to follow Jesus, like the Publican Matthew. But he remains sincerely attentive to him and his message
Right at the beginning of Jesus' preaching he came to see him during the night. Jesus took him very seriously and gave him a very profound teaching about the need to be born again. Now, when all the other priests and Pharisees want to condemn Jesus, he has the courage of his convictions and reminds the others that the law does not allow condemning someone before hearing him and knowing the facts – an elementary principle of natural justice worth remembering in our days when assassinating "suspects" of terrorism without any trial seems to become accepted practice around the world. We will find the same Nicodemus at the tomb at the time of Jesus' burial.
When the Pharisees who oppose Jesus go off each one to his own house, Nicodemus always go out of his house and out of his way either to know more from Jesus, to demand that he be treated fairly and to manifest respect to his body after his death. May we all have the same faith and the same courage of our convictions in every circumstance.
THE FOURTH WEEK OF LENT
READING I Jer 11, 18-20
A reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah
I am like the trustful lamb, being led to the slaughter.
I knew their plot because the Lord informed me; at that time you, O Lord, showed me their doings. Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: "Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more."
But, you, O Lord of hosts, O just Judge,
searcher of mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause!
GOSPEL Jn 7, 40-53
Some in the crowd who heard the words of Jesus began to say, "This must be the Prophet." Others were claiming, "He is the Messiah." But an objection was raised: "Surely the Messiah is not to come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah, being of David's family, is to come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" In this fashion the crowd was sharply divided over him. Some of them even wanted to apprehend him. However, no one laid hands on him.
When the temple guards came, the chief priests and Pharisees asked them, "Why did you not bring him in?" "No man ever spoke like that before," the guards replied. "Do not tell us you too have been taken in!" the Pharisees retorted. "You do not see any of the Sanhedrin believing in him, do you? Or the Pharisees? Only this lot, that knows nothing about the law -- and they are lost anyway!" One of their own number, Nicodemus (the man who had come to him), spoke up to say, "Since when does our law condemn any man without first hearing him and knowing the facts?" "Do not tell us you are a Galilean too," they taunted him. "Look it up. You will not find the Prophet coming from Galilee."
Then each went off to his own house.