John 3: 14-21
Nicodemus is one of the more intriguing characters we encounter in John’s Gospel, partially because very little is known about him other than his encounters with the Lord, beginning with this one today. He will appear again in a few chapters when he begins to confront his own darkness in the light of day and then reappear at the end of Jesus’ life in preparing the body for burial in the new tomb. But like the other conversion stories we know of this gospel, such as the Woman at the Well, the Man Born Blind, and the Raising of Lazarus, it still contains many of John’s themes of light and darkness, seeing and not seeing, and a gradual deepening of faith through an encounter with the Lord.
Now the one thing we do know of Nicodemus is that he’s a Pharisee and that this first encounter happens in the dead of night, complete darkness, both of which are important in understanding his conversion in John’s Gospel. Now we all know John is often criticized for what some would call lofty theology but at least when it comes to these conversion stories, he really writes more from a mystical union within himself, that’s why John and Jesus are often misunderstood, but conversion nonetheless. So Nicodemus comes in the dark of the night so that he isn’t seen in this encounter with the Lord by anyone, especially the Pharisees whom he is a part of; yet, he goes. There’s obviously something missing in his life that is pushing for this encounter, and in the darkness of the night he really begins to confront his own darkness, but not in the sense that we often associate it with sin and suffering. What Nicodemus begins to confront is the darkness of the persona he’s been trying to live up to. Again, in the literal sense that’s why he does this in the dark of night as to not be seen. He still is driven and identifies himself with the Pharisee. He still seeks acceptance and can fall into that trap, yet, at the same time, feels movement within and beyond that persona.
Jump ahead a few chapters when we encounter him again. At that point it is in the light of day. He begins to live from a different place within and is beginning to see the cracks in the persona that he has created. Remember, we’re no different. We create them for ourselves as well to protect ourselves from vulnerability often. We try to live up to the persona of the priest, of a doctor, lawyer, even mother or father or so on where our entire identity gets wrapped up in that role that we begin to lose sight of who we really are. This is where we’re encountering Nicodemus throughout the Gospel. It will only be near the end when he can finally begin to let that go, know it’s there, and yet choose to live from a different place and allowing Love to lead rather than the persona. It’s hard work but it’s the work of conversion that we speak of during the season of Lent, a conversion in its truest sense, in a biblical sense.
But I do believe that his story is much like ours. So often we encounter these characters and here their stories and it seems as if everything changes dramatically and quickly. But that’s typically not my experience and I’m sure not yours either. Conversion for us tends to be slow and steady as it is for Nicodemus. Gradually the darkness begins to be revealed in the light. Yet, John tells us that we prefer the darkness and that’s true. We know the darkness of the world and persona that we create for ourselves and as we grow it can often do more harm that good to us and beyond, it holds us back from living out of that Love and often leads to even greater darkness, leaving us questioning, fearful, and quite anxious about life when we find ourselves trying to be something we are not, and for that matter, someone we are not, at least not in the fullest.
As we continue these now final weeks of the Lenten season, we pray for a deeper awareness of our own darkness and the persona’s we identify ourselves with. Although it may be what we do at times, it’s not our true identity in Christ just as it wasn’t for Nicodemus. Imagine the love and the place in which Nicodemus lived within and from in the end in the care for the body of Jesus as it was prepared for his resting place. We are invited into that same encounter with the Crucified and Risen Lord, gradually and often, to confront and identify that darkness in our own lives, and like Nicodemus, the more that divine indwelling shines through and leads the way in our lives, the more we will become love, live in love, be led by love, often where we do not want to go, and to manifest that love into the world.