Nicodemus (left) talking to Jesus, by Henry Ossawa Tanner Photo/Wikimedia Commons

The Spirit makes rebirth possible for us

By  Fr. Thomas Rosica, Catholic Register Special
  • March 12, 2015

The Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B) features a nocturnal conversation between two important religious teachers: on the one hand a notable “teacher of Israel” named Nicodemus, and on the other, Jesus, whom Nicodemus calls a “teacher from God.”

It is one of the most significant dialogues of the New Testament. Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus secretly at night suggests the darkness of unbelief and his prominent role and position in the Sanhedrin, the national cabinet of Israel, made him the custodian of a great tradition. He was considered by many to be a national expert on God.

Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the need to experience the presence of God and offer oneself to Him. Knowing God is much more than a gathering of theological information, details, rules and data about Him.

In speaking about being born again from above, Jesus does not mean that one must re-enter the mother’s womb for a second time; but Jesus refers to a rebirth, which the Spirit of God makes possible.

We know nothing more about Nicodemus, except that months afterward he is able to postpone the inevitable clash between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. Later on, Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathea in retrieving the broken body of the dead Jesus for burial in a borrowed tomb.

I cannot help but read the story of Nicodemus without thinking of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October. In his masterful, concluding address to the Synod, Pope Francis addressed some of the temptations he felt present during the two-week ecclesial meeting. As we read them, we realize that they are not only temptations present at the Synod, but also in our daily lives… temptations that lead us into making ourselves lords and masters of the tradition, of Scripture and Church teaching without being first and foremost humble, grateful recipients and servants of the Catholic tradition.

Pope Francis outlined the temptations for us:

o The temptation to hostile inflexibility, closing oneself within the written word and not allowing oneself to be surprised by the God of surprises; to remain closed within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called “traditionalists” and also of intellectuals.

o The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.

o The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy and painful fast and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak and the sick; to transform it into unbearable burdens.

o The temptation to come down off the cross, to please the people and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

o The temptation to neglect the deposit of faith, not thinking of oneself as guardian but as owner or master of it; or the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing.
What lesson does Nicodemus teach us today? He alerts us to what happens when we buy into a system and try to “master” theology, Scripture, tradition, rules and regulations. He teaches us that courses in religion and theology or attempts to manipulate, dominate, distort or ignore sacred Scripture and Church teaching are no substitute for deep faith in Jesus, love of Him and sincere conviction. For Nicodemus, God is much more than information and data, rules and regulations: God is first and foremost a friend, a lover, and His Son Jesus a Lord and a Saviour who patiently waits for us by day, and even by night. Rather than approaching Scripture, tradition and Church teaching as something to master, we must allow them to master us, surprise us, challenge and form us into grateful servants and disciples.

(Fr. Rosica is CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and English language assistant, Holy See Press Office. For more of Fr. Rosica, visit