Nicodemus Visits Jesus
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person.”Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
In 2015 two psychologists reviewed six studies on gift-giving, looking in particular at the kinds of gifts chosen. They divided the gifts into two categories: those based on the interests of the recipient versus those that reflect the giver’s personality or interest. It is probably not any surprise that all parties prefer giving and receiving recipient-centric gifts. The gift is supposed to be about the recipient, right? However, the study found both the giver and receiver reported higher feelings of closeness when the gift reflected the giver.
When you stop and think a bit more about this, what initially seemed counter-intuitive starts to make sense. Some of the most beautiful gifts involve giving part of oneself. Creating a curated playlist of favorite songs—or in decades past, burning a CD or making a mixtape—or collating a book of one’s favorite poems reflect the giver’s preferences. But the thought, time, and love that go into the process foster closeness.
I’m not a crafty person so I’m not good at making things for people, but I took a page from my parents book…I like to focus on experiences.
- My family knows I’ll take some time in the woods in a cabin anytime over a piece of clothing.
- Laura knows I’ll take a soccer game over a pair of shoes I’ve been looking at any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Today, the readings offer a look at the gifts that God gives and an exploration of how they might pull us ever closer to God’s presence.
God’s promise to Abraham (when his name was still Abram), “I will bless you, … so that you will be a blessing,” provides a foundation for stewardship. Like Abraham, God blesses us, not so we can sit back, content in our circumstances. God calls us to take risks and steward our resources as we travel through life so that our neighbors are blessed. God remains with us throughout these all-encompassing journeys. And, as with Abraham, it’s only by God’s grace that our stewardship brings blessings to all people.
Some scholars emphasize Abraham and Sarah’s childlessness, stressing that Abraham’s accomplishments did not birth a nation through which all people would be blessed—rather, it was God acting in their barrenness that bore blessings. In Romans, Paul reiterates that it was not Abraham’s own righteousness that led to the blessing. The promise came because of Abraham’s faith.
God’s promise to Abraham of a life of blessing included the instruction to embark on a risky journey away from the familiar and into the unknown. To remain in what might have felt safe would have resulted in continued barrenness and hopelessness.
This insight may reassure us who hesitate to leave the “safe,” known ministries and/or who feel inadequate for seemingly risky stewardship ventures. Taking some risks may be necessary in stewarding God’s gifts to bear hope and blessings for our neighbors.
We can be “blessed to be a blessing” like in the reading from John. Nicodemus, barren of sufficient understanding and belief, seeks Christ—as people still seek him. Christ doesn’t condemn by the law; Christ fulfills God’s life-giving promise.
We’re stewards who are blessed to share God’s grace-filled promise of blessing to anyone who, like Nicodemus may come in “darkness” seeking to understand—and with everyone.
But what strikes me this week is that Nicodemus is one of the few side characters –that’s not one of the disciples—that appears at several points in John’s Gospel.
- Here, in his main appearance.
- Again near the end of chapter 7, when Nicodemus, if not exactly standing up for Jesus let alone proclaiming his faith in him, nevertheless reminds his colleagues that, according to the law, they should not judge Jesus before giving him a trial. And for offering that reminder he is rebuked.
- Then he makes a third appearance, this time after Jesus’ crucifixion, when Nicodemus accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to collect, anoint, and bury the body of Jesus, the one just executed by the Romans. Again, perhaps not quite the same as standing up in the assembly and declaring his faith, yet nevertheless another significant step forward, as by his actions Nicodemus declares this allegiance to one who had just been executed for a capitol offense.
And that’s what I think makes Nicodemus such an interesting character. He is the only side character, as far as I can tell, who shows up at multiple points in John’s Gospel and grows in his faith.
- At first he brings questions and is confused.
- He later invites others to slow in their judgment.
- He finally risks publically honoring the one just executed. Faith, at least in Nicodemus’ case, takes time.
I can identify with Nicodemus’ journey with Jesus continues across most of the Gospel of John and.
- For some, perhaps coming to faith was easy and fast and strong and they’ve rarely doubted. And all we can do is give thanks for that experience.
- But for others—maybe most of us—faith comes more in fits and starts, two steps forward and another back.
- Or perhaps at times things seems clear and at others just plain confusing.
- Or maybe faith feels a lot more like an endless series of questions rather than easy and forthright affirmations.
I’ve read somewhere—I can’t remember where—that Nicodemus is the patron saint of curiosity. I love that. I think I’d also claim him as the patron saint of all those of us with an uneasy or restless faith. Those who aren’t satisfied with easy answers, those who keep questioning, those who want to believe and also understand, but at least to believe even when we don’t understand!
Even more though, I think this story says a lot not simply about Nicodemus but also about God. God is patient. God doesn’t give up. If God keeps working in and on and through Nicodemus across three years and sixteen chapters in John’s Gospel, God will keep working in and on and through us. No matter how long it takes.