Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Nicodemus Survival Tactics

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 11, 2024

We’ve seen the bumper sticker: “COEXIST.” Like “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” it’s hard to argue with the aspiration. But the slogans are purposely ambiguous and blur the distinction between good and evil. The proponents expect believers to surrender to their Godless secular religion. The survival tactics of Nicodemus help us navigate a politically correct hostile environment.

Nicodemus appears several times in the Gospel of St. John.

Nicodemus is a holy subversive.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee in good standing. “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night.” (Jn. 3:1) He was a company man, a team player, and a cog in the wheel of the Pharisee ruling class. He refused to call attention to himself and approached Jesus in secret and retained his membership in the elite club.

Nicodemus is a model of respectful inquiry.

Nicodemus approaches Jesus with honesty. He does not put Him to the test. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” (Jn. 3:2) Jesus rewards his forthright truthfulness with a memorable revelation:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned. (Jn. 3:16-18)

Nicodemus is a man of God’s law.

The Pharisees sent their officers to arrest Jesus, but they came back empty-handed. “The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why did you not bring him?’ The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this man!’ The Pharisees answered them, ‘Are you led astray, you also?” (Jn. 7:45-48)

Nicodemus defends Jesus—and the officers—invoking Mosaic Law: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (Jn. 7:50-51) The hatred for Jesus by this group of Pharisees was so intense, they even circumvented the Law of Moses. They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee.” (Jn. 7:52) Exactly. The Messiah would come from Bethlehem. The Apostles were “deplorable” Galileans, except for Judas, the lone Judean sophisticate among the Twelve.

Nicodemus is a man of courage.

Although Nicodemus conducted his consultation with Jesus in secret, he manifested his discipleship at the worst possible time, at the foot of the Cross. “Nicodemus …came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. [Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea] took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” (Jn. 19:39-40) His love for the words of Jesus concludes with reverence for His battered body.

The leaders are intransigent in wickedness.

During his initial secret encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” The admission is a thunderclap. The hatred of the ruling class was so intense these Pharisees were willing to reject God Himself to kill Jesus.

The plan to murder Lazarus confirms their deranged hatred. “When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” (Jn.12:9-11)

The grand finale of their apostasy occurs when Pilate presents Jesus to the crowds and the Jerusalem elites deny the primary truth of the Old Testament: “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (Jn. 19:15) How would we respond to the denial of the Faith by a high level Churchman today?

Jesus anticipated and diagnosed the apostasy during his initial encounter with Nicodemus: “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (Jn. 3:19:21)

The tactics of Nicodemus provide lessons for today.

The survival tactics of Nicodemus continue in every generation as foretold by Qoheleth: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity…What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:1-9)

Government and corporate jobs—almost without exception—have become politically correct and WOKE. Without risking one’s job, it has become almost impossible for employees to wage a frontal assault on the bureaucratic Godless DEI religion. Comparisons to the old Soviet Union are unavoidable.

But priests, reinforced by the gift of celibacy, have an easier time proclaiming the truth than the laity. At the moment, priests can speak freely from the pulpit. The worst the clergy can expect is the loss of parishioners, reduced parish revenue, or the occasional rebuke of ecclesiastical authorities. Indeed, priests receive their salaries before the parish pays the utility bills. Unlike the laity smothered by corporate and government political correctness, priests and bishops have no excuse for failing to preach the Gospel.

In today’s culture, like Nicodemus, we must be prudent and holy subversives, respectful in our inquiries, and lawful in mind and spirit. But we’re only buying time. As with Nicodemus, the crucifixion of Jesus lifts the veil of secrecy and calls forth our courageous witness. COEXIST? No. Like Nicodemus, be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16)

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rfr46 - Mar. 14, 2024 4:44 AM ET USA

    Masterful! And wise. And practical.

  • Posted by: tjbenjamin - Mar. 12, 2024 6:38 PM ET USA

    What an insightful and timely article, Father! Thank you for showing courage in these unsettling times.