When I was a child, I firmly believed in monsters under the bed that came alive in the dark. I dreaded dark places where spiders and snakes and monsters lived. I always made sure I curled up away from the edges of the bed so my hands and feet would not stray into monster territory. This fear of things that came alive at night persisted well beyond the age when I knew better. Night was a time when nothing good happened and I wasn’t a fan of the dark for many, many years.
Night, however, was a good time for Nicodemus to approach Jesus. He’d be away from the prying eyes of his colleagues who would maybe not understand his desire to talk with Jesus. No one would be there to see that he was risking his power and position to talk with the rabbi who could stir things up so well. Maybe Nicodemus could also keep some of his own denial in place if there were no witnesses. Night provided safety and a blanket of protection for a Pharisee who was drawn to the problematic Jesus.
I love this idea that night – solitude and darkness – was good for Nicodemus. Usually, we think of the darkness of night as something to be avoided. The childish fear often persists and seldom do we think of nighttime darkness as being good. Maybe it was a good time for Jesus, too. He could say some important things without crowds around him. He changed Nicodemus in ways that would take some time to unfold, but the changes took root that night, nonetheless. After all, it was Nicodemus who advocated for Jesus with the Sanhedrin (John 7:50-51) and who helped prepare Jesus for burial (John 19:39-43). His encounter with Jesus under the cover of night must have meant something because the risks to Nicodemus’ power and position were just as great when he later stepped into the light of day.
However, on the night in question, Nicodemus sought Jesus out. Perhaps he had a question. Perhaps he just wanted to get closer to Jesus and see for himself what all the fuss was about. Perhaps he was drawn by a yearning he could not contain. Who knows? Yet, there he was talking to Jesus. I would like to believe that the cover of night allowed Jesus to say things he might not have said in another time and place when distractions were more numerous.
Of course, Nicodemus had no idea what Jesus was talking about. Be born again, from above, anew? How? What could that possibly mean? And that stuff about the Spirit blowing where it wills? Poor Nicodemus. He was probably grateful for the darkness to hide his confusion and his shame of not fully understanding. Jesus let his frustration be known, too. How could Nicodemus not understand?
All these words spoken quietly in the dark… Nicodemus didn’t grasp them. We don’t grasp them either. Not really. We want to make these words about salvation and surety. We want to know that we are included in the ones who will have eternal life and not have to worry. Maybe these words were spoken in the dark because the edges of their truth are softer than bright noonday sun could tolerate.
God’s love for the whole of Creation is so strong, so persistent, that this Love became Incarnate to lead people to abundant life. God’s purpose was not to condemn the world but to save it from all that humans do to bring destruction, devastation, and death. Who could hear these words with all the distractions of daytime life? But in the night, in the quiet, in the solitude, these words could crawl into our fearful souls and plant seeds of hope and courage and faith.
If these words were powerful enough to lead Nicodemus away from the power and privilege of being a Pharisee and into the risks of advocating and caring for Jesus, what can they do for us? When we sit wrapped in the blanket of night, and hear words of God’s love for the whole of Creation, words that whisper of life and not death, of belonging and not being lost, think of what might become possible. We might be willing to risk letting go of our places of power and privilege to advocate and care for the vulnerable in our midst.
Good things can happen in the night even if we think we are hiding from monsters, from ourselves, or from God. God will meet us there and speak quiet words of a greater truth, and transformation will continue.
RCL – Year A – Second Sunday of Lent – March 12, 2017
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9