The Fourth Sunday in Lent
11 March 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
2 Chronicles 36, 14-16, 19-23 + Psalm 137 + Ephesians 2, 4-10 + John 3, 14-21
There is so much in John’s Gospel about light and darkness. Think of all the things that happen at night: the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the trial of Jesus, and the sun darkened at his death. Then there is Mary gong to the tomb before it is light no believing what has happened. One of the great signs in John’s Gospel is the healing of man born blind – someone who has lived in the darkness. Into what is almost a cosmic struggle between night and day, light and darkness comes this figure of Nicodemus. I always think of him as a “twilight man”. Nicodemus makes three appearances in John’s Gospel, this one in chapter three. Then, he’s there again in Chapter Seven among other Pharisees, with words of caution to them about overstepping their bounds as they propose the death of Jesus. Finally, he is there once more in the 19th chapter buying a huge and expensive amount of burial materials for the body of Jesus.
He comes in the night, curious and interested. He is a man with an open mind. He wants to know more, so he goes to Jesus not content with hearsay and what others have to say. In today’s Gospel, we get a clip of what Jesus says to him about light and darkness, the truth, and good deeds. When the conversation is over, he’s gone, and it’s still dark. Nicodemus does not want to be seen. Yet we have think that Jesus liked him just as he liked that rich young man who ran up to him and then went away sad.
When Nicodemus shows up again, he cautions his companions about trying to kill Jesus, but that caution is more to protect the Pharisees than it is to protect Jesus we are led to believe. He never really comes out to defend Jesus or to express any faith in him. He takes no real risk. He expresses no faith or confidence in the truth Jesus speaks. Then the last time he shows up having spent a large sum of money for burial spices and cloth. There is no indication that he did a thing to stop that tragedy. All we can tell is that he felt a little sorry for Jesus. Never in all three appearances does this man ever emerge into the light of faith. All we can say about him is that he was open minded and curious, that he was fair minded about Jesus before his own peers, and that he was generous and maybe compassionate.
It strikes me that Nicodemus never really inspires because he never does anything of really great importance. He misunderstands Jesus like the rest of the disciples, but he also never declares any faith in Jesus. He keeps to his comfortable position of power and only mildly questions what’s going on around him. Compared to the others who were being martyred for following Jesus, he’s not quite going the distance for God.
So, the Church puts him before us today as a kind of “twilight man” inviting us to step out of the shadows so that our deeds can bear witness to our faith. There is still in all of us a lot of darkness from which we are called by this one who is the Light of the World. We are never going to step in the light of Easter morning while we hang around in the shadows timid, afraid, cautious, and concerned about what others will say of us. We are children of the light who act in truth before God because the Light has come into the world.