Fourth Sunday of Lent - Cycle B - John 3:14-21
The good news is the Bible is available in 2300 languages. The bad news is the world has 6700 languages. Two thirds of the world's languages have not yet seen the Gospels. Christ tells us we have to do a better job of telling everyone about Someone who can save anyone.
I was driving out of New York City across the George Washington Bridge. My tank was empty. I almost had to push the car into a gas station in New Jersey. The attendant filled my tank. He gave me a leaflet titled "God's Plan of Salvation."
Then the young man in fractured English asked me the question the Teacher asked of Nicodemus. "Are you born again, mister?" He did not wait for my answer. He told me, "Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:7, `You must be born again.'" As I put my refreshed car into drive, he shouted, "We'll praise the Lord together, mister." My gas jockey subscribed to the line that teaches "evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find bread."
Happily there are people around who are saying yes to Jesus. The young man above accepted the invitation of Christ "to have eternal life in Him." Unhappily too many of us are zerox copies of Senor Nicodemus. He is the timid disciple Jesus is chatting with in today's Gospel. Like him too, we hedge our bets with Jesus. We are afraid to place our lives on the table. We say, "Why not give me a call tomorrow, Lord?" We know we will be out tomorrow. And we have no answering machine. "Most people," said DL Moody, "talk cream and live skim milk."
We should not be hard on Nicodemus. Christ enjoyed his company. (Can the same be said of us?) He relished His talk with the well-read gentleman. The apostles were hardly brain surgeons. Only a few of them could read and write. Chats of the type described in today's Gospel with them would have been an exercise in futility.
Furthermore, through this gentleman Nicodemus, we receive a splendid outline of the job definition of the Master as He Himself understood it. What better authority is there?
After saying all that, the poor fellow was still a reluctant disciple. In a word, Nicodemus was a respectable person, who was shackled by conventions and fearful of great decisions. The opinion of the fellow next door was more important than that of Christ's. Do you get the feeling we are talking about ourselves?
His conversation with the Lord was held at night. He was not anxious to be seen by friends in daylight with this strange preacher. He had much to lose. So, he was an after midnight follower. He would remain a closet Christian. Will that be our fate? Or will we be bold enough to break free of our restraints and take a genuine flyer on Christ? Will we "out" ourselves?
Several months after my rendezvous with the disciple of
Christ at the gas station, I pulled into a diner for a quickie hamburger and coffee. My waiter was about 20. He spotted my Roman collar and began talking volumes. He told me he had recently been converted to Christ through Mormons. He was giving away 10% of his income to the church. He was waiting for a call to be shipped out as a lay missionary. I asked what country he would like to work in. He told me, "Whatever country Jesus sends me to." Even though the hamburger tasted like a hockey puck, I left impressed and ashamed. I was envious of the man's compelling faith. Nicodemus or Gilhooley he was not. A free spirit and genuine Christ follower he was. He had proved to me a line I had read. "You can give without loving, but you can't love without giving."
I had lunch with a college student. He told me how our campus ministry program might be improved. I listened. Finally I rejoined, "But, Jon, in your four college years you have never once gone to Sunday Mass. In an emergency, you would not be able to find the chapel." Said he hotly, "So what? I am a good Catholic." That wonderful line of Kierkegaard came to mind. "It is so much easier to become a Christian when you aren't one than to become one when you assume you already are."
Yet, for Jon and us there is hope in this Lent which
means spring or new birth, for "in every winter's heart there
is a quivering spring." Christ will not force us to grow, but He can love us into new life.
Do remember the missionary's line: "The world begins where your front yard ends."