by Rev. Fr. Paulose T. Peter, NY
This Sunday’s reading records a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a scholar, a ruler of the Jews, and a man who wielded power and authority in the Sanhedrim. He is called ‘the secret disciple who came to Jesus by night’.
Why would Nicodemus go to Jesus by night? He knew that Jesus, a great ‘Rabbi come from God’ as he puts it, was busy all day in his public ministry and therefore wanted to meet Jesus at his leisure. In our daily needs, don’t we impose our time requirements on God? We are like the little boy who prayed to God saying, “Lord grant me patience and I want it right now”. Never impose your time on God. “Wait on the Lord”, says the Psalmist. “Wait, I say, on the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).
Pharisees were not in the good books of Jesus. Being a Pharisee, he was perhaps ashamed to be seen with Christ in broad daylight. Do we think religion is out of fashion? If we pray at home and at church before we eat, do we do the same and make a sign of the cross regardless of whether we eat in McDonald’s or at our workplace? In a public meeting place of only foreigners around, I remember trying once to kiss the hand of one of our Late Bishops who embarrassingly pulled his hand, looking to his left and right.
Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews but he did not go to Jesus to talk politics. He felt an inner urge to talk about his soul. He put his spiritual needs first before anything else. Isn’t it true that whenever we speak to a member of our church we mix our conversation with church politics? Such secret politicking in phone conversations with other church members is a bad example to our younger generation. Besides, it spews venom in our churches and in our communities.
Nicodemus could have started the conversation saying, ‘I am a ruler of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrim’. Instead, he addressed Jesus as “Rabbi” meaning ‘teacher’ and a Godly Man. Give respect to others when you talk to them. When he said that no one can do these miracles without God’s assistance, he was appreciating and acknowledging the power and abilities of Jesus. The goodness in Nicodemus is further highlighted when juxtaposed with the behavior of his own colleagues who advertised that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub.
Nicodemus was very careful not to make any commotion among his fellow Pharisees until he himself found out the truth about Jesus. What he wanted was a personal encounter with Jesus, not a public conversation among a big audience. Change ourselves first before we try to change others. In his powerful position, he could have sent a messenger but chose to go himself. He wanted to get convinced himself first in secret before he went public.
‘Born again’ is a term used to denote a rebirth, not physical but spiritual. Those who promote ‘Believer’s baptism’ quote Mark 16:16 “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”. According to their way of thinking, only those who have reached the ‘age of reason’ and the ‘age of accountability’ should be baptized. They like to throw their arms up into the air at street corners and in college campuses and shout at the top of their lungs that they are born again and saved. St. Paul makes it very clear that “we are saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Infants are baptized on account of God’s grace, not on account of their faith”. If anyone goes around making the claim that he is born again and saved, then he makes himself the decision maker, not God. Salvation is by Grace from God. While certain denominations are very upbeat about using the term ‘born again’, Orthodox believers are reluctant to use the term. There is no need for us to be apprehensive about it. All those who received baptism can confidently say that they are born again. All infants who get baptized are born again and they receive the fourfold benefits of baptism such as a) deliverance from sin – ‘papamochanam’ (Acts. 2:38); b) gift of the Holy Spirit – ‘visudhalma danam’ (Acts. 2:38); c) children of God – ‘puthra sweekaram’ (Gal. 3:26) and d) membership in the church – ‘sabhayil angathwam’ (Acts 2:41 – 3000 joined the church). Those who get baptized as an adult need to grow and stay in the faith and so do the infants who get baptized. When Nicodemus met Jesus, his life changed forever.
Nicodemus who went to Jesus secretly by night proclaimed his faith in broad daylight at the crucifixion when he was fully convinced. His meeting with Jesus turned his life around and our lives should be no different when we proclaim our faith in Jesus.
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Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the 3rd Sunday after Denaha (Baptism of our Lord)
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