Lent 2008: Second Sunday – Out of the Darkness

The Gospel reading for today comes from John 3: 1-17. It is where Nicodemus comes to see Jesus during the night to talk with him. Most commentaries and preachers focus on the relationship between night and secrecy, arguing that Nicodemus came then to avoid being seen. While that may well have been his motivation, there is something much more important happening here from my perspective.

This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” John 3:2

By night can also be seen as the spiritual condition in which Nicodemus is enmeshed. He is a teacher of Israel, who Jesus later upbraids for his failure to understand.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? John 3:9-12

Paul would later tell the Corinthians that the natural man cannot understand spiritual things.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14

The fact that the spiritual truths that Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus went right past him without any understanding aptly demonstrates Paul’s point. Despite his standing, his education, and his exalted religious position, he was spiritually blind. This gives his coming by night a strong symbolic meaning, clearly demonstrating the spiritual darkness of his understanding.

The fact that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin probably goes a long way in explaining why the religious rulers in Jerusalem could not, as we would say today, get Jesus. They, like him, were blind to what was occurring in front of them, to Jesus’ unique mission and purpose. To them, he was a problematic irritant, who raised baffling questions and needed to be dealt with.

Because of that, these men who considered themselves profoundly religious and spiritually discerning, were instead oblivious to the fact that they stood at the nexus point of history and the greatest moment in human existence since the creation of Adam passed them by unawares.

So sad.

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