It has always been easy for me to be a little dismissive of Nicodemus because he, for a long time, seemed little remote to me. As someone who grew up outside of a church and who came to faith in his mid-20s, Nicodemus was a bit hard to relate to because, as a convert, Nicodemus seem so much of what I was not. He was sufficiently invested in the religious establishment that he had strong enough convictions to align himself to a faction. He clearly was afraid of being seen to be too closely related to someone like Jesus in daylight hours, but, clearly, found him so compelling that he couldn't resist meeting him. However, when he did meet him, he really couldn't take in what Jesus was on about because he was so stuck in being seen to be pious. So, I didn't really have the best opinion of poor Nicodemus, but, then, I doubt if I thought much about him from one year to the next.
Yet, what I found myself reflecting on Nicodemus this week, I started, twenty two some odd years after becoming a Christian, to identify a bit with Nicodemus. I am starting to see the subtle temptation of spending a long time with specific 'religious' practices- those practices which are intended to structure and contextualize spirituality, but which can seem to take its place because doing is sometimes easier to do than being. I'm fairly good at getting out to church once a week, volunteering for various tasks at church, praying in the morning and at night and, even, with trying to 'think' Christianly in my daily life. So, in the twenty-two some odd years since becoming a Christian, the 'religious' aspects of my faith are part of my life and that is, by and large, a good thing. It is a good structure and it gives a particular tone to my spirituality which gives meaning to how I understand, God, the world around me and my duty to my neighbour.
For Nicodemus, if we can judge by his decision to approach Jesus, that good practices along wasn't quite enough. There was something else missing. Nor should it be for me either. I can go through the motions, doing all the things that I do to keep connected, but the real work is to relate to a God, whose answers, when they come, are quiet and hard to discern, at best, but transform my reality in ways that I might not always anticipate or, even, sometimes, appreciate. As a convert, perhaps, I know a thing or two about rebirths, but what I know for certain is that the rebirth is nothing compared to the growing into faith that, naturally, follows that rebirth. That growth is slow and painful, but infinitely better than what stood before. That is, of course, why rebirth is a good thing, but not an easy thing. Usually, it is found by slowing down and shutting up in order to,connect with God and meditate with gratitude to the gifts I'm given as well as where I'm being called to. Then, and only then, will I find the courage to continue to grow in my relationship with God and to learn to become that person who God made me to be.
The simple fact that makes Nicodemus so compelling to me is that Nicodemus seemed stuck somehow and he had the courage not to accept staying stuck. Being stuck and the spiritual dryness which accompanies it happens. It happens because we are humans and our attention, sadly, wavers. Other thoughts come into our heads- anger or desire or any number of other distractions which fill our head in this distracted age (just like, I suspect, all the other distracted ages). Getting stuck is easy, but seeking the renewal which gets us moving again is harder, if only because we can get accustomed to our rut. By seeking out Jesus, Nicodemus was probably getting more than he had counted on when he went, but, at least, he moved out of his rut and sought out a better way. If I can do half as well most days, that would be plenty.
Ultimately, we don't know what happened to Nicodemus. We know that he had the courage to challenge the hatred of the religious leaders in Jerusalem against Jesus (John 7, 50-51), even if he was threatened back into silence. We know he helped prepare Jesus' body after His death rather lavishly. We know that he is considered a saint in both the Eastern and Western Churches. Sitting with Nicodemus this week has been good for me because he has helped me understand both the value of practicing the disciplines of faith and the necessity to go beyond them to deepen my relationship with Jesus. And those are good things on which to reflect.