Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent and integrity in public life.

”How can these things be?” Nicodemus in today’s Gospel, John 3:1-17.

“I’m really good at what I do. I do stories in the public interest, and I make judgements.”

Journalist Isabel Oakeshott on giving Matt Hancock’s confidential WhatsApp messages to the Daily Telegraph for publication. 

Today’s Gospel takes place after the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana and Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, when many ‘believed in his name because they saw the signs of what he was doing’. v23. Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, comes to Jesus to question him about this but does so at night as he presumably doesn’t want this to be widely known. Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus’ actions are connected with God’s activity and offers his support but is hedging his bets at this stage. A debate begins about being born from above, during which Jesus directly challenges Nicodemus, who is clearly perplexed as he asks, “How can these things be?” v9

There is much happening today which may make us ask the same question. How can it be that there are so many national issues causing such confusion and bewilderment, whether the cost of fuel, strikes causing chaos, lack of food in some supermarkets or Government ministers appearing to be economical with the truth? Journalist Isabel Oakshotte defends divulging 100,000 confidential messages for open publication on the grounds that they are in the public interest whilst the Health Secretary criticises her betrayal of his trust although he is having an affair with his aide which breaks the trust established in two marriages. The messages highlight disputes during the pandemic over testing in care homes, policy for schools, contempt for teaching union officials and also mock those having to pay for hotel stays during the pandemic – yet the messages, equal to three volumes of the King James Bible, also clearly show the huge pressures being faced by those in leadership at the time. Government policy made on the hoof in an unfolding situation – how could this be and yet, how could it be otherwise as Covid advanced in unknown territory?

Nicodemus’ question echoes Mary’s “How can this be?” at the annunciation in Luke 1:34. In reply, Jesus asks Nicodemus, “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” All this clearly has an effect on Nicodemus who, whilst covert now, will later try to defend Jesus as criticism of him grows, (7:50; 11:47) and will also bring spices to anoint his body after crucifixion (John 19:39). In encountering the truth and facing hard decisions, the furtive Nicodemus then shows courage openly when the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities is already well established – will the same be true of the politicians and authorities today as the analysis of Covid and its consequences rumbles on? As the Lenten journey continues, perhaps there are things in our own lives we would prefer were not widely known and we may also have hard questions to ask of ourselves or our own conduct at times of testing. How can these things be, and what can we openly do about them?

With my prayers; pob bendith

Christine, Guardian.