2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2: 4-10; John 3: 14-21
I had the opportunity this weekend to check out the Goretti Players perform their spring musical, Celebration. One of the main characters in the show is a man by the name of Mr. Rich. He’s an older gentleman who begins to come to the realization that his life is pretty empty…he can no longer feel and no longer love, and yet, sees it in the young people around them and wants what they have. The problem is, he has created an artificial world for himself. He wears artificial hair, makes artificial body parts, likes artificial flowers, and so he lives in this artificial and fake world where love just can’t happen. But now he finds himself on the fence…he sees the emptiness of this artificial world and yet desires more. He wants something more than the fake; he wants to live and love.
It is the predicament that Nicodemus finds himself in throughout John’s Gospel, the only one that he appears in. He is unlike any of the other characters we meet in John’s Gospel, like the Man born Blind, the Samaritan woman, or Lazarus, all who go through this gradual process of coming to faith and fully committing themselves to Christ. Nicodemus struggles and finds himself on the fence. His noted quality that John points out, is that he always comes to Jesus in the night. Obviously light and darkness have significance in this Gospel. So today he comes to him at night for many reasons, certainly seeking that same love. Yet, he too knows the fake world that has been created for him. He is one of the only religious authorities that comes to Jesus in this way, but has to do it at night because of his status, this artificial world where he is comfortable, but unfulfilling. In the night because of the increased pressure that is on Jesus and his impending death. Because of this world he lives in, and despite the desire of his heart, he can’t be seen with Jesus.
He does gradually grow throughout the gospel. The next time he appears in chapter 12, he actually stands up to the religious authorities, yet quickly backs down because of the pressure then put on him in sympathizing with Jesus and then feeling that rejection. In the end, the final place he appears is at the death of Jesus, but even here it is Joseph of Arimathea that takes the lead in anointing Jesus’ body for burial. This fear and uncertainty puts him on that fence between the artificial world, that becomes our world of sin, and the world that Christ invites to of love and life.
In that musical Mr. Rich couldn’t look at himself for years in the mirror because he didn’t like what he had become, this artificial self and couldn’t stand the sight of it. Yet, the message from the young man was to look into the eye of God. Nicodemus has to keep looking into the eyes of Christ, even if it is at night, and the more he gazes, the more he can begin to leave behind the artificial world and move to the life that Christ promises. Paul tells us today , though, that we can’t do it ourselves. We often need God to push us off that fence to the other side before we can stand naked and surrender ourselves to the life and love of Christ.
Even the writer of Chronicles in today’s first reading understood this. He gives this litany of all that they had participated in, this artificial world of sin and fakeness. He reminds them of what happens when they enter into this world…remember exodus, remember exile, remember the desert, remember feeling abandoned and empty. If you return to that artificial world you have created for yourself, you will once again face that same destiny. Yet, John tells us that the darkness of that world is what we like and want because it’s what we know and are comfortable with, but a world that is dead and without opportunity for life.
As we enter into these last weeks of the Lenten season, the invitation remains the same for us on this journey. We are invited to surrender to the other side of the fence, to the life and love that Christ promises and leave the fake and artificial world behind, knowing its emptiness and its lack of fulfillment. If we want to love and live the way Christ calls us to, then we have to leave it behind, continue the gaze into his eyes, and allow God to push us over and off the fence. We are assured, as people of faith, that the life and love we desire surely awaits.