Nicodemus: The Secret Disciple
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
A reflection on John 3:1-17
In today’s gospel, we hear how Nicodemus, an elderly man, and a teacher and leader of his people, was drawn into a dialogue with Jesus about faith and the future. He was drawn to, but profoundly confused by, Jesus. He realised that Jesus must have come from God, and could only do what he did because of the presence of God with him…..but he didn’t get it! I suspect that many of us have felt a bit like that from time to time too.
Jesus told him that he needed to be ‘born from above’, but this left Nicodemus even more confused because he knew – like everyone else – that we are only born once and never as an old person! But Jesus, of course, was talking about the kingdom of God and stressing that those who welcome Jesus become part of that kingdom. Part of the reason for Nicodemus’ confusion was that he thought he was already in God’s ‘tribe’ as an Israelite and a descendant of Abraham.
Jesus stressed that birth into the right tribe is not enough; the kingdom of God is for those who receive him. Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand that membership of that kingdom is not about hiding in the shadows and keeping his allegiance to Jesus secret. Rather he must come out into the open and declare his faith. New believers do this in baptism as we welcome them into the Church - the community of like-minded people who have embarked on this same journey of faith.
We don’t know exactly how Nicodemus responded to Jesus’ words but he reappeared after the crucifixion among those who buried Jesus’ body. The secret disciple clearly became more public, so despite his struggles with Jesus’ words, it would seem that he did eventually come to understand what Jesus was about, embracing the new life offered by Jesus. This Lent, let’s try and do the same.