3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
This COVID pandemic has had a lot of different effects on people. One of the effects it has had on me is to send me looking for new books, new movies and new TV series. I mean, one can only watch Friends so many times before one really needs to find something else to get involved in. And my roommate, bless her heart, was led by Spirit one night when she couldn’t sleep. She could write the book I’ve had in mind, entitled “Things I Found Out on the Way to Looking Up Something Else.” On her way to find out something else, she came across “The Chosen.”
“The Chosen” is a new dramatic video series on the life of Jesus. This from their website: Dallas Jenkins is the director behind The Chosen, an episodic series on the life of Christ as told through the eyes of [those who knew him best], namely, the “chosen.” The series recently finished season 2, and they are working on funding for season 3. The Chosen is self-distributed outside of the conventional channels. It’s free to watch on The Chosen app [and on AngelStudios.com]. The project is funded by crowd sourcing, and they are well on their way to the third of eight planned seasons.
The writers of this drama series work very much like I do when I create Bibliodrama. They take a scene from Scripture and imagine what else might have been said in a particular conversation. Was there more discussion than we have here in our text? Are there others who might have been involved in the scene? How does this scene fit within the overall narrative of the ministry of Jesus? The writers of this series bring surprising and delightful ideas to the familiar stories. Currently there are four women counted among his followers. Among those who Jesus called by name. Among those who dropped everything to follow him.
The episode which includes the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus is beautifully expanded in their vision. It helped me to realize that I have never thought about the people who Jesus called, but who didn’t follow. I’d like to explore the idea that Nicodemus might have been such a person.
In this episode, with the help of James and Simon, Jesus and Nicodemus are able to meet in the roof-top garden of someone’s home late at night. They require secrecy because the Roman leadership in Capernaum has started to take notice of Jesus and want him for questioning. This meeting is dangerous. One or two lanterns give a golden glow to the scene as they sit across from each other at a small wooden table. The single candle between them speaks to me of the presence of Spirit in that moment in time.
The writers of this version of the conversation stay true to the placement of the scene and the conversation we just heard in our Scripture reading. This meeting takes place early in the story of Jesus. He has gathered some of his disciples, but not all. He has done a little sacred magic. But he hasn’t made an announcement of his ministry or given confirmation of his identity yet. Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus is a holy teacher. He names him Rabbi, saying, “
Nic: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. No one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.
For clarification of his belief, Nicodemus tells Jesus of an experience he has been unable to comprehend. He explains that Lilith (as Mary Magdalene is named at the beginning of our story), that Lilith was known in the town to be possessed. Nicodemus braved the sordid environment of the Red District to go to her home and attempted to cast out the demons who tortured her. His attempt failed and he retreated from the “Legions” inhabiting her spirit. Then, a few days later, he encounters her in the market. She corrects his name for her, saying “Mary” was her name as a child and is now again, since she has been healed. He is astounded to see that she is a completely different person. She is herself again, clear, centered, calm and smiling. In the roof-top encounter now, Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus is the one who healed her. He is in wonder and deep joy.
Nic: All my life I have wondered if I would see this day!
Jesus: Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
Nic: How can someone be born when they are old? Surely, they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!
Jesus: What is born of the flesh, is flesh. What is born of the spirit, is spirit. That. That part of you. That is what must be reborn to new life. (pause) Listen. (pause) What do you hear?
Nic: The wind.
Jesus: How do you know it’s the wind?
Nic: Because I can feel it. I can hear its sound.
Jesus: Do you know where it comes from?
Jesus: Do you know where it’s going?
Jesus: That is what it is to be born again in the Spirit. The Spirit may work in a way that is a mystery to you. And while you cannot see the Spirit, you can recognize its affect.
Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? I think it is open to many interpretations. I know there are times I feel led to do something, say something, go somewhere… but I have no idea where that impulse originated. My process is to check in with my heart. Does this impulse feel warm and exciting, or does it feel tense and doubtful? For me it’s always a game to figure out if Spirit is speaking or my own desires or dreams… or fears. It takes deep listening, I think, to feel Spirit moving and to “recognize its affect.”
The conversation on the roof continues. Jesus listens, answers the many questions Nicodemus has. Then he makes an astonishing offer.
Jesus: Follow me.
This is not where Nicodemus thought this conversation was going!
Jesus: Follow me and you’ll see more. Join me and my students. In two days’ time, we leave Capernaum. Come, see the kingdom I am bringing into this world.
Nicodemus fumbles for an answer. He can find no words. Jesus acknowledges the life situation of this open-hearted man.
Jesus: You have a position in the Sanhedrin. You have family. You are getting advanced in years. I understand. But the invitation is still open.
Nic: The invitation to what, exactly? To lead a nomadic life? To give up... who I am?
Jesus: It’s true. There is a lot you would give up. But what you would gain is far greater and more lasting.
Nic: Is this another one of your born-again mysteries?
(they laugh quietly together)
Jesus: Maybe. I know mysteries aren’t easy for a scholar. Think about it.
Our life situation always needs to be considered when making big, life-changing decisions. There are people in our lives who need to be taken into account. We have important work. We have comfortable homes. A decision such as the invitation from Jesus would mean a total upheaval of the life Nicodemus has established over the course of a lifetime. He has a high position in his society. He is a leading member of the Sanhedrin. He is married to a wonderful woman who loves him and their life together. There are children and grandchildren beloved in his heart. Not to mention, he is getting on in years. Following an itinerate preacher, camping on the hard ground, not always having a full stomach, these things would be heavy burdens on this elderly gentleman. But he gets it! He sees Jesus for who he is!
Jesus encourages Nicodemus to join them. And Nicodemus gives it a great deal of thought over the next two days. He might have actually taken up the challenge and followed. The time comes when Jesus and his followers will meet at the well in the center of the city to continue on their travels. At home, Nicodemus is struggling to make his final decision. His wife knows him so well. She can see he is battling with something important. Wisely, she comes to him to say she loves their life. Softly, gently she simply asks him to take her home. We can see the struggle in his eyes. A short while later, he quietly walks out of the home, carrying a small red velvet bag with him. He leaves this bag by the side of the well where Jesus and his followers will meet. But he hides just out of sight, around the corner of a nearby building. He can see them as they come together. He sees them find the bag and discover the gold he has given. Jesus raises his voice above his crowd of followers,
Jesus: Is everyone here? (pause) Anyone else?
Nicodemus is in quiet tears, so close to Divinity that the Spirit ruffles his hair. But he does not step out. Jesus understands. He feels the loss of this potential friendship.
Jesus: You came so close.
As the small band of travelers sets out for their future, Nicodemus weeps. Nicodemus got it! He opened his heart and his mind, and he received revelation. As Jesus says, he had “ears to hear and eyes to see.” He just couldn’t quite go there.
So it is with us sometimes. I believe Spirit blows through our lives, ebbing and flowing. Opportunities arise. Choices must be made at a crossroad. How do we respond? In our Scripture reading today, Jesus acknowledges that this journey, this pilgrimage of the heart, is a mysterious journey.
Jesus: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
I know, in my life, I have always wanted to know why? Where? To what purpose? The more I consider Scripture and the mysterious teachings of our beloved Jesus, I wonder if those are our questions to ask. Spirit comes from God, and Spirit blows back to God. Maybe that’s enough for us to set our sails, to catch the wind, and follow. I believe that a purpose of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection was to connect human life and divine Spirit.
Jesus: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
As we read in the Gospel of John, Jesus “came so that we might have life and have it abundantly!” He taught us to pray like we’re talking to a beloved parent. Jesus taught and exampled a personal relationship with God. A personal connection with Spirit. This connection allows us, gives us the opportunity, to go with the flow. To follow Spirit where Spirit leads with faith and trust.
Jesus: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
He speaks of saving our lives now, as we are living it, in this moment in time. In all our moments in time. Here in this fragile human life, now in this wild mix of emotions and thoughts and dreams and goals. May you have eyes to see and ears to hear the Call of the wild, creative Spirit in your life. May you be courageous enough to listen to Spirit, set your sails to catch that holy wind, and follow Him. Amen.