Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus 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 apart from the presence of God.” [John 3:1-2]
I have always been a night person. It is when my concentration, creativity, and imagination are at their highest level. I do my best writing at night. I retain more when I read at night. And I’m not just talking 8-9 p.m., I mean 2-3 a.m. when all is quiet and the only disturbing noise I hear is the grinding of the water softener that we purposely set for 2 a.m. On occasion I will hear a train whistle, but I find train whistles a soothing distraction.
When I don’t have writing obligations, I do most of my devotional reading in the early morning. Again, to be clear, that is around 5 a.m. There’s a calmness to nighttime that expands the minds horizons. All around is dark, which cuts down on the visual distractions.
Of course, there’s a price to be paid during the daytime when one is supposed to be awake, but finds it hard to keep the eyelids from drooping. But – and I hate to keep rubbing this in – I’m now retired, and my daytime responsibilities are at a minimum.
If you pay attention to details in the Gospels, you’ll note that Jesus was also a night, or early morning person. Numerous references are made throughout the Gospels of Jesus going out to deserted places to pray, “early in the morning, while it was still very dark.”
The Gospel reading for this day introduces us to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who came to Jesus at night. I had never taken much notice of this little point until well into my 40’s, when I read a book titled Jesus, a Life, by A. N. Wilson.
There are a variety of reasons why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, not the least of which was the fact that his fellow Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus, and were trying to find ways to have Jesus eliminated. This encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus takes place shortly after Jesus had driven the money changers out of the Temple. If that didn’t put him squarely in the crosshairs of the Pharisees, nothing would.
But Nicodemus was different. He was intrigued by this man, Jesus, and that curiosity drove him to want to know more.
Wilson writes: “We, too, the readers or hearers of the Gospel come to Jesus by night; that is to say, blinkered with the desire to make sense of things, [emphasis mine] bounded by common sense, decency, and by ethical and scientific notions which are containable with the kosmos rather than being wholly outside of it…We want to know whether the Gospel…whether the stories which it relates are in any sense or any small particle, verifiable.” [p. 65]
We’ve gone through more than a year of trying to make sense of things. The struggle of this pandemic and all its ramifications has put a strain on our way of life. We want to do what is right, but we aren’t sure of just how, where, or when to do it.
In our efforts to try and make sense out of the senseless, it is human nature to ask questions, to wonder, to doubt, even to fear. But in all cases, our efforts at explanation fall short. We cannot explain the Coronavirus any more than we can explain cancer, or any other life threatening illness.
In our lack of human understanding, and, I might add, that lack of confidence, and lack of faith, we come to Jesus for answers, just like Nicodemus. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is one of the highlights of the Gospel according to John, one of the great teaching moments, if you will.
We are living in a strange time that we haven’t experienced in our lifetime. But nevertheless, it is a time and an age that points us towards the cross. This Lenten journey, weighed down with endless news about illness and death, invites us into yet another opportunity to walk a path toward restoration with Jesus.
I somehow wish the folks who put together this lectionary wouldn’t have cut off the reading before getting to the next verse, the most familiar verse in all of Christian Scripture. This is what in television dramas is called a “cliffhanger.”
Tune in tomorrow for our next episode.
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