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Michael Simone, S.J.April 19, 2023
Photo by David Tomaseti, courtesy of Unsplash.

A Reflection for Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

Find today’s readings here.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses a lot of abstract concepts like “truth” and “light,” and he engages in lengthy and subtle dialogues that baffled even his closest disciples. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, by contrast, Jesus offers concrete commandments like “Love your enemies,” or understandable parables like the Good Samaritan. The words often used to describe these evangelists include “earthy,” “popular” or “everyday,” whereas descriptions of John’s Gospel often use the words “mystical” or “philosophical.” As my high school scripture teacher, Barb Ketterick, once explained it, “John’s Gospel is 200-level!”

Today’s Gospel passage, for example, ends with the observation that “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn 3:21). The phrase has a philosophical elegance, and none of the words are themselves difficult. Mystery only sets in when a reader starts to think of ways to live this passage in discipleship.

The setting of this passage is a nighttime meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, who wants to understand the signs Jesus had performed. Some of these, like the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-12), were miraculous; others, like the cleansing of the temple (Jn 2:13-25), were symbolic. John’s Gospel hints that there were others (Jn 2:23), and Nicodemus wants to know the source of Jesus’ power. In the ensuing dialogue, Jesus reveals that he is the Son of God.

We do the truth when we follow Christ’s example and no other, when we forgive and love and work for peace.

In John’s Gospel, the message Jesus bore from God completed centuries of divine communication. Revelations to Abraham, Moses and the prophets each communicated a part of God’s instructions for being human. God revealed gradually, John suggested, because of human limitations in understanding. With Jesus, humanity receives the fullness of instruction. Only the Son knows how to communicate the Father’s message perfectly. John returns repeatedly to this “instruction on how to be human” and calls it the Truth.

This message takes on a new urgency in today’s Gospel reading. Many of us have heard these readings for decades and we can forget what a departure they represent. In Western literature, resurrected characters often inspire vengeance or bring it about themselves. In Hamlet, for example, the ghost calls upon the prince to avenge his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder.” Likewise, in the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf returns to complete the war against Sauron. But in the Gospels there are no recriminations, no demands for vengeance. Jesus forgives the disciples who abandoned him and commands them to go and preach the good news to all nations, including those nations who sent him to his death.

We do the truth when we follow Christ’s example and no other, when we forgive and love and work for peace. This is what reveals us to be in God.

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