John 3:1-17 – The 2nd Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 16, 2014
“He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God . . .’” (John 3:2)
I scurried from Jesus’ hovel, grateful for the night that still hid my actions. Call me a coward, if you will. Yes, I had avoided the indoor lamps casting slivers of light across the dusty avenues on the way over. Yes, I had ducked into a few corners—like the one near the bakery—as I searched for the address. The only prayers I prayed before meeting him were about . . . not being seen. Deliver me from spying eyes! With Passover in Jerusalem, everyone went to bed late and woke early. Everyone wanted to earn an extra denarius. Thousands begged. Thousands more pretended how pious they were. Deliver me from Jerusalem at its commercial, crass worst.
I slowed by the bakery, far enough away from Jesus’ doorstep. Now no one could link me to the Nazarene. Instead of continuing, I slumped on the apothecary shop’s steps beside the bakery. A brew of yesterday’s perfumes and herbs irritated my nose. I was exhausted, but not from the walk. I could stride the breadth of Jerusalem and outpace men half my age.
It wasn’t the walk to Jesus, but the talk with him.
I breathed deeply, settling against the step’s smooth stone. What if someone came by? What would I say if asked why I was here?
Act haughty. “None of your business,” I could growl.
Act weary (and I was). “I visited a sick friend,” I could lie. “I’m resting before returning home.” Or I could add . . . I’m resting and praying before returning home. That would cause the baker or apothecary or whomever stumbled by to leave me alone. I was better than them.
I wish I’d left Jesus alone.
Then he wouldn’t have disturbed me.
And yet how could I not visit him? In the dark, in the light, by myself or in a crowd of a hundred, I had to see him.
I wanted to warn Jesus! Colleagues schemed against him. If all of the backwater, dirt-under-the-nails prophets were smart, they’d remain in Galilee, keeping their screeching and preaching for the village idiots. Stay away from Jerusalem if you wanted to stay alive.
I wanted to tell him he was wrong. Wrong! I knew the Torah. The best and brightest rabbis had taught me about our rituals and restrictions. How dare a carpenter’s son think he could ignore the law!
I shifted on the steps, felt a sharp pebble pinch my thigh. I grimaced. Tears welled, my throat thickened. How dare he follow the law! That was what pinched my heart. It wasn’t that Jesus broke the interminable laws, but that he knew them so well.
But I am a coward. How could I tell him he was right?
And who was he? God blessed? God damned?
Yesterday, when the Nazarene gazed at the hordes around the temple and caught my eye, why (why!) did I think he was looking at me . . . and only me? How could he know my heart? My fears? My doubts? And so how could I not seek him out in this dark night with these dark thoughts roiling my soul? I had to learn what he . . .
I wanted to grow closer to God. I wanted to learn how to trust like Jesus trusted. Just show me the right path, tell me what the laws truly meant. I will listen. I will! But when there, inside the threshold of his dump, sniffing the burned grease from a recent meal, his Galilean stragglers snoring in the corner of the room, my heart thudded so loudly I feared I couldn’t hear a thing he would say.
But I heard.
He said I had to be born again. He said God’s love was like the wind. What rubbish!
I curled tightly on the uneven steps and wept. I am old. I am old. Nothing of my world was a safe place anymore.
A breeze stirred. I sat upright. But it wasn’t a breeze, instead a person passing by the apothecary shop. Passing and then turning back, studying me, as if he could detect every object through the black smudge of this godforsaken darkness.
“Is that you, old friend?”
In the silent city, his words pealed like thunder. It was the baker. We were childhood chums, long separated by education and status.
“What are you doing here?”
Lie. Deceive. Obfuscate. Act haughty. Admit weariness.
“What are you doing here?” the baker repeated.
I wiped tears with the heel of my hands. The baker could probably see my misery. Who could not notice how terrible I looked and felt?
“I went to see Jesus,” I said without planning my words. “I wanted to . . .” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
The baker slapped my shoulder. “Good for you, old friend. That took courage. I heard him at the temple yesterday. It was like he was speaking directly to me.”
I nodded, not caring if he couldn’t see my gesture. Didn’t care as I wept and trembled and felt so vulnerable.
“Come with me to the bakery. It’s warm there. Soon, there’ll be fresh bread. Drink and eat with me, my dear friend Nicodemus. We’ll talk as I work . . . about old times, and better still, about new hopes.”
I rose from the cold rough-hewn stone to follow my friend. It felt like I was taking my first steps.