Wondering About Nicodemus…

John 3:1-17

It is so that I have been called upon to preach on this piece of John’s Gospel many times before and so it is with some effort this time through to come up with a new way ‘in’ to a very familiar story. And so I am allowing myself to begin by simply asking questions of the story before us now. In fact, the stories before us this week and in the weeks to come are so compelling, it might be worth considering finding ways for people to simply enter the narratives themselves in new ways. Perhaps if you are inclined to take this approach, the following questions will help you to do so. (If, however, you want a more ‘finished’ or ‘typical’ take on this week’s Gospel, click on these links to go to my reflections from earlier years: It’s No Wonder Nicodemus Wondered…  or Nicodemus by Night)

And so, here is what I am wondering now:

Why do you suppose his parents named him “Nicodemus?”

I can only imagine that they didn’t name him this only because they liked the sound of it. And while perhaps it was a family name passed down, even so, the root meaning of Nicodemus rings true if we hear his story to the end. For in Greek Nicodemus means “Victory of the People.” (Nico coming from the Greek Nike — as in the sports brand!) In addition, others offer that the Hebrew derivation means “Innocent of blood.” Whatever the preferred meaning, they both fit, don’t you think? If all we know of Nicodemus is the story before us now, one might wonder. However, if you follow his story through to the end of John’s Gospel, his words and his deeds demonstrate that he saw in Jesus true ‘victory’ for all people. And that, in fact, Nicodemus was ‘innocent of blood.’

What do you think?

Do you think this was the first time Nicodemus and Jesus encountered one another?

I, for one, don’t think so. In their exchange we hear that Nicodemus has seen Jesus ‘at work’ before — probably more than once. And Jesus indicates that he knows something about Nicodemus’ status in the larger Jewish community. Indeed, I find myself wondering now if perhaps this is just one of many late night sessions where Nicodemus came to be schooled by this rabbi.

What do you think?

Why did Nicodemus come after dark?

We think we know the answer to this one. Given his stature in the community, perhaps it is so that Nicodemus did not want to be seen. Perhaps he is genuinely afraid. Maybe at this point he is not ready to publicly commit to even struggling with the true identity of Jesus and how he fits into the tradition which has shaped and guided his living until now. Certainly it is also so that this detail fits into larger themes in John’s Gospel where darkness is often associated with lack of belief or worse. Maybe, though, the darkness here is just symbolic of the fact that Nicodemus is ‘still in the dark.’

What do you think?

Does Nicodemus really not ‘get it?’

It’s hard to say, of course, for you and I cannot hear the tone in which the words are spoken or see the expressions on the face of those speaking. And yet, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Nicodemus asks his question about being ‘born again’ with a huge smile on his face. Maybe Jesus is just poking at him a bit when he jibes him with the comment about his learned stature. Indeed, it could be that this is just a playful back and forth between teacher and student in which the student draws the teacher out with his leading questions.

What do you think?

Where else do we encounter Nicodemus in the Bible and what do we learn about him there?

Nicodemus only shows up in John’s telling and not in the other three Gospels. First we hear about him here. And then a few chapters later we hear Nicodemus coming to Jesus’ defense in the Sanhedrin when he insists that it would be unlawful to pass judgment on Jesus without actually hearing directly from him. (See John 7:50-51) Finally, there is the remarkable last time that Nicodemus shows up and aids Joseph of Arimathea in bearing Jesus to the tomb. More than that, he brings with him 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes which were wrapped in the linen cloths which became Jesus’ burial clothes. One hundred pounds. Not only would that have been costly — indicating that Nicodemus was a person of some considerable means — but it was way over the top in terms of quantity. One might say that this abundance of spices was a sure sign of the fact that by now Nicodemus surely knew that Jesus was no ordinary man. One might even say that Nicodemus ensured that Jesus had a burial ‘fit for a king.’ Perhaps, even, the very ‘Son of God.’

What do you think?

  • And so back to the meaning of the name Nicodemus. No matter what his parents’ hopes were for him: surely by the end of his life he recognized that Jesus was ‘the victory of the people:’  Of all people in this world God so loves. Given all that we know of Nicodemus, how does it deepen or expand your understanding of who Nicodemus was if you know the meaning of his name? Or does it?
  • What difference might it make in your understanding of who Nicodemus was if you think of him as a frequent visitor with Jesus instead of this being a one time encounter? Or does it?
  • How does it change your thinking about Nicodemus if you hear his story from end to beginning instead of beginning to end in John’s Gospel? Does it make a difference to remember him first in terms of his final act of devotion to Jesus? Why or why not?
  • I have offered a handful of questions above. Other than these, what in this familiar story causes you to wonder now? And how do your questions help you go deeper in your understanding of Nicodemus’s night time encounter with Jesus?


One comment

  1. Mike Wilson says:

    I agree that they had a previous relationship, and that he needed to come after dark, since the church hierarchy didn’t like Jesus and his “radical” interpretation of “the law”. Nicodemus, I believe, was very intelligent, and yes, it sounds like they were teasing each other a bit. I’m sure it was difficult for him to “come out”, but the crucifixion pushed him over the edge. Loved this interpretation!

Comments are closed.