Jesus said to Nicodemus: "The Son of Man must be lifted up... For God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through him the world might be saved.... Whoever refuses to believe is condemned already...Men have shown they prefer darkness to light because their deeds are evil." (John 3)
These words — words of Jesus and comments by the evangelist — follow on a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Nicodemus asked many searching questions and Jesus gave many mysterious answers. Nicodemus, a rather good fellow (like most of us), was searching, trying to understand the paradox of this man Jesus. While Jesus was preaching a wisdom that seemed to attract people, it was not just traditional wisdom. He seemed rather to disagree with and even break the Law of Moses. Nicodemus, to his credit, came personally to discuss with Jesus rather than go by second-hand reports.
Nicodemus came by night, no doubt nervous about people seeing him. People might think he was making some commitment to this new and controversial teacher who was already under the suspicion of the priests and teachers of the Law. Nicodemus was one of them. Jesus used the nocturnal setting to point out the contrast between light and darkness, between faith and refusal to believe. He presented these as choices.
Jesus also spoke of a new birth we must undergo. He used symbols like these for he knew we can grasp the truth through symbols even when we cannot grasp it with our rational minds. Conversion, after all, is not just changing our mind but changing our heart.
Nicodemus was having this struggle between his head and his heart. As each of us has to do, he was searching for the place deep within where his spirit would meet the Holy Spirit and truth would be born and life spring.
What does it mean "To refuse to believe is to be condemned already"? Refusing to believe is choosing darkness, choosing to be without light. It is refusing love and thereby condemning oneself to live without it. It is like receiving a gift-parcel in the mail sent by one who really loves us and returning it unopened to the sender. It is a terrible preference to choose darkness.
- To what darkness do I still cling? Why?
- Where am I rejecting the gift of God? God's light? God's invitation?
- Am I hiding talents? Why? Am I withholding forgiveness?
- Do I really believe I have received God's gift of life in Christ through my baptism, my rebirth? How am I living it to the full?
Lord, I come to you in the night also, in my own darkness. But I choose your light. I dare, like Nicodemus, to come to you asking you to teach me. Open my heart and change it even if it hurts. Do not allow me to stay in the dark. Expose what is darkness in me so that I may emerge from night into light. Birth is hard but necessary. I want to be fully born and fully alive, living and working always in your light. I want to go where you want to create me as your living sacrament.
Mary Alban Bouchard CSJ
This reflection is from Sister Mary Alban Bouchard’s book Until the Son is Risen published by Novalis in 1988 and adapted for the web.