Sunday, February 20, 2005


Today we heard the story of Nicodemus, the bigshot Pharisee who pays Jesus a secret nighttime visit and asks him, "We know there's something special about you. What's the rest of the story?" Jesus' enigmatic response completely flummoxes Nicodemus, who seems to be a real "Follow the shoe!" kind of guy.

That's the temptation, anyway -- to diss poor Nicodemus in this story. We hear the Gospel, we nod sagely -- "Well, of course we know what Jesus means! But that Nicodemus -- what a blockhead." My Lenten devotional reading today is from Kierkegaard, and even he takes a rhetorical swing at the Pharisee: "Despite the risk to his reputation, despite the effort on his part, Nicodemus was only an admirer. He never became a follower."

Hey...not so fast.

Nicodemus' response to Jesus is not so different from my own, much the time: "What? What did you say?" When Jesus says things like "Pray for the people who persecute you," or "Sell all you have and come, follow me," or "Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back isn't fit to be my disciple," my reaction tends to be along the lines of the original listeners who shook their heads and said, "Who can listen to this stuff?" So I can't get, as my grandparents would say, all high and holy about any presumption to superior, Real Christian[tm] insight on my part.

And...when do we find Nicodemus again in the Gospel of John? Near the end of the story. Jesus is dead. His disciples have bailed. Nicodemus is one of the people who risk their own reputations to make sure that Jesus -- dead criminal, seditionist, blasphemer, failure, as shameful and unclean as one can be -- gets a decent burial. However confused Nicodemus was after his initial encounter with Jesus, no matter how much head-scratching ensued over trying to get Jesus...Nicodemus came back.

I "came back" too. Even though Jesus -- aka The CEO, in whom and through whom and for whom all things were made, but who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing -- still blows my mind. So maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for Nicodemus...another dazed and confused person who, despite everything, just can't stay away from Christ.


Andy said...

only an admirer. He never became a followerI don't know if you've come across it yet, but this is referenced in Baptized We Live. It's an important idea. We can't let Nicodemus off the hook too easily -- especially when we identify with him!

But of course you're right, he does end up following through better than a lot of the disciples in John's gospel.

LutheranChik said...

Yes and no...we can't leave Nicodemus off the hook, but at the same time, the text is silent about what he does with what he's been told between the time of his encounter with Jesus and the Crucifixion.

Still waiting for my own copy of Erlander. I'll tell you, I'm making my local bookseller a very happy man, LOL (You've got to admire the insane courage, or courageous insanity, of anyone who decides to open an independent bookstore in a town of ~3,000. So I try to send my business his way.)

Our "Creeds" facilitator at the retreat encouraged us to read Pelikan's 3-volume history of the Christian faith...that would make my bookseller a very, very happy man!

Andy said...

Actually, I think Pelikan's work is five volumes. I read the first volume last year and it was excellent. I've since bought the second volume, but haven't gotten to it yet.