In John’s gospel we meet error, confusion and even, we might say, the manifestation of an ‘original sin’ in self-imposed isolation. Jeremiah, the Prophet of our first reading experiences these feelings, and they are not unknown to ourselves. We may want to carry the psalm refrain with us today as our prayer in the midst of such feelings, "Lord, my God, I take shelter in you."
There is argument as to where Jesus comes from, division as to whether he is the Messiah. Some, knowing that he comes from Galilee, reject him as Messiah since Scripture says he is to come from Bethlehem. The Pharisees also reject Jesus as a prophet; prophets do not come from Galilee. But the readers of John know already that Jesus was from Bethlehem, and that there were prophets from Galilee, among them Hosea and Jonah. We see the arguments presented against Jesus are flawed by error. But the real issue is not the geographical location of Our Lord. Jesus has come from the Father, that is his place of origin.
Nicodemus is shouted down when he protests that judgement is being passed without listening to the words of Jesus. The temple guards sent to bring Jesus to the Pharisees, return empty-handed. Their excuse is that, ‘no man ever spoke like that before’. It is not the law that the Pharisees are disregarding, but they refuse to listen to Jesus’ word. Nicodemus has listened to this word and it makes him different.
Our final words tell us that the Pharisees went off each to his own house. These words are similar to those of the gospel writer when Judas takes the morsel at the Last Supper, gets up and leaves. We are told that he steps out into darkness, the place of unbelief and sin. The Pharisees leave not in communion but isolation. Jesus who has come from the Father seeks the opposite of isolation. He has come to gather all of God’s scattered children. Jesus has come to lead us to intimacy with the Father. The Pharisees who are judging Jesus choose to move into isolation and division. Nicodemus, who approached Jesus in the darkness is moving in the opposite direction. He has heard the word of Jesus and is coming to the light. He speaks out and in the end will be one of the privileged entrusted with the great act of charity to tend the body of the Crucified. He unites himself with the disciples.
John’s gospel today tells us that Jesus is from the Father. We come to know Jesus by listening to his words. And there is a struggle between isolation and the work of Jesus to make us one in himself with the Father. In the midst of daily errors, confusion and ‘isolation’, let us draw strength from the Good News of John, and let us pray, ‘Lord, my God, I take shelter in you.’
Fr. William Murphy, CP is pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, MD.