I saw a little of Nicodemus in myself this week. For you see, it’s the first week of a new session for my early morning workout class.
Winter has worn on for us here in Northern Illinois and I have found it more and more difficult to respond immediately to my alarm when it awakens me at 4:45 a.m. So I’ve been pushing it more and more and managing to walk in with the last stragglers just before things get started.
But it is the first week of a new session and with new sessions new people often sign up. New people who don’t know that I have a favorite spot in the second row between two others with whom I have developed a quiet, but understanding companionship over these last couple of years.
I have to say, though, that I didn’t choose that spot because of them. I chose it because it was in the second row — where perhaps my clumsiness would be less noticeable. And yes, to be honest, I chose it because it is the one angle in the room where you can’t see yourself in the mirrors which line the north wall. I did not want to see myself. And this way, I didn’t have to. I could show up, yes, and I could do the work but I didn’t have to fully acknowledge whether or not it was making any discernible difference or not.
And so on Monday morning when I arrived someone else was in ‘my spot.’ I dragged my blue mat to the front row… in full view of everyone, including myself, now that the mirror was no longer obstructed. (Oh this has happened before, but the last time it didn’t last… I don’t know what became of the new person that time — perhaps she sensed my unspoken angst from across the room, but she pretty soon she didn’t return. Or maybe I just managed to get myself out the door a little earlier and was able to reclaim my space.) On this past Wednesday morning, I was a little earlier, but the new person was earlier still. And I found myself in the front row once more.
And so I have to say I understand Nicodemus, I really do. While this is not true for all parts of my life, when I am uncertain, I prefer the ‘darkness’ of the back row. When I’m more uncertain, I don’t like my ignorance or my struggles held up for me to see in a full length mirror before me. And certainly not for everyone else to see either.
Not that this is necessarily where we find Nicodemus today. Oh, many believe that he is sneaking around in the dark ‘for fear of the Jews’ for he is described as ‘frightened’ for this reason later in John’s Gospel. And it could well be that he came at night out of fear. But it could also be that he came at night to avoid the crowds — wanting some one-on-one uninterrupted time with Jesus so that he could get to the bottom of the questions which had been nagging at him ever since Jesus entered the picture in his walk of faith. It could be that Nicodemus was finally pulling himself out of the back row all on his own and plopping his mat down front where he can get a better view. Or maybe he simply couldn’t help himself. Maybe his coming ‘by night’ was because he had been awakened by his nagging questions one too many times and he just decided to take a walk to see if he could get those questions answered.
For it is evident that Nicodemus has been watching and listening to Jesus for some time now, but he is still struggling mightily to put the pieces together. He knows that Jesus ‘has come from God” for he can see the evidence of that and he says so. And yet as he sits with Jesus away from the day-time crowds, it is also obvious to those of us who listen in that he doesn’t really fully understand. And Jesus knows that. Poor Nicodemus is standing precariously on the edge of mystery and Jesus seems to push him right in. Because this is not intellectual parsing that is called for now. Rather, Nicodemus — body and soul — is standing before the full length mirror Jesus is holding up and for once he is looking at Jesus and at himself with all of his struggles and all of his hopes and all of his fears right out there in the open.
I expect we will never really know why Nicodemus came ‘by night’ to see Jesus. Maybe it was fear. Perhaps it was practicality. And maybe he just couldn’t sleep for the questions which would not let him go. And maybe in the end, it doesn’t matter. Because as long as he is in the ‘front row’ where he can see and be seen? Well, that may well be his first step towards wholeness in his relationship with Jesus. Because sometimes? You have to be forced to look in the mirror to see who you are and where you are and where you still are called to go.
- As I indicated above, one could understand Nicodemus’ coming ‘by night’ in a number of ways. Which way makes the most sense to you?
- How have you been ‘forced out of the back row’ in your own life of faith? What has that meant to you?
- Or are you one who has voluntarily put yourself in the front row? Why is that? What difference has that made in your life?