Lent 2 a
A & C
John 4.1-21, Gen 12 1-4, Ps 121, Rm4 1-17
Nicodemus visits Jesus in the night
We’ve heard stories of two people today who risk everything on the basis of am impossible challenge. There’s Abraham, who leaves everything to obey God, and Nicodemus, who visits Jesus in the night. He’s our subject today.
Like others in Jerusalem, Nicodemus had seen the signs Jesus has performed. He may well have been there when Jesus cleared the Temple of the people selling birds and animals for sacrifice, and the money changers. Fascinated by this man, he arranges to meet Jesus. But he’s not game to be publicly associated with Jesus. Jesus cleansing the Temple might have been called a terrorist act these days – or the act of some fanatic from a religious fringe group. So Nicodemus visits Jesus, but secretly, in the night.
Nicodemus is just like many people here – educated, committed and faithful, and with a respected position in the community – a reputation that’s taken years to earn. Who here would visit a revolutionary new spiritual teacher like this in broad daylight? Would you meet with Jesus at Essence or Ruby’s on Wednesday morning for coffee? Might be noticed! What would they say?
So yes, Nicodemus visits Jesus in the night. John’s Gospel makes a lot of the symbolism of light and darkness. Think of the last few verses from today’s gospel: ‘19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
Maybe Jesus meant Nicodemus chose to come out from the darkness – came to the light of Jesus; so he was somebody who does what is true.
If so, he was right. But poor Nicodemus got more than he bargained for. No sooner had he paid his respects to Jesus than he was utterly confounded by a saying about being born from above – born anew – born again. He took it literally – and who wouldn’t without a lifetime of teaching on Christian baptism. Jesus takes him off into another realm of understanding about being born not of his mother, but of the Spirit. You’d think that with such obscure sounding teaching, Jesus would never see Nicodemus again.
And maybe he doesn’t; but we do – twice. The first time, Nicodemus risks his reputation when he challenges his fellow Pharisees; they want to haul Jesus before a kangaroo court(ch 7). The next time, he joins Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus’s body. By doing so abandons his ritual purity (ch 19). So he won’t be able to participate in the Passover the next day. That’s like a priest on Holy Saturday deciding to give up the chance to celebrate Easter the next day.
Nicodemus also gives up as any pretence to secrecy. He is by now so deeply a disciple of Jesus that even after Jesus’s execution – which made other disciples run away and hide in fear and doubt – he has become so profoundly a disciple of Jesus that he risks any social standing he has to pay his last respects. The Spirit has done just what Jesus said; she breathed where she chose, and Nicodemus was born anew; born again; born from above.
But that takes us several weeks down the track, doesn’t it. What about now? As we journey down that track? Does Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus in the night have something to say to us, who are like him in so many ways? I think it must.
It’s sometimes really tricky for us to have our faith identity and our social identity open to view at the same time. They don’t necessarily match.
At our soup supper, we discussed where we get our identity from: our family, faith community, nationality, career, things we do with friends, our language, where we live, things that we’re passionate about, things we love about people and things we hope people love about us. It’s quite a mixture, isn’t it. And we protect these things; we don’t want them laughed at or called into question. An attack on the things that make us who we are is really threatening.
Sometimes our faith identity and personal identity can contradict each other. We’re finding in our Soup Suppers how our national identity and the plight of fellow Christians who are Aboriginal are deeply at odds. Our studies are giving us the chance to hear the stories of faithful Aboriginal Christians; to read the same scriptures as these brothers and sisters through the same set of glasses. And that experience brings us all into the presence of Jesus together.
And that’s the point. Jesus came for us all – for the whole world. We heard him say it this morning: 16 ‘…God loved the world in this way: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 ‘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.
No-one is left out of God’s love; God sent Jesus in order that the world might be saved. Was it that insight which made Nicodemus choose to risk his identity – career, friendships and social standing – to rethink his own people’s whole reason for being? This son of Abraham made the same choice as his ancestor. He left everything to follow God wherever the breath of the Spirit might lead. The purpose was the same: that all families of the Earth – the whole world – might receive God’s blessing. May we be courageous enough disciples to follow these very clear examples! It’s about God’s Grace; God’s Love. Everyone needs it and we are the chosen vessels. Amen