Nicodemus’ Invitation

Monday, August 13, 2012 — Week of Proper 14, Year Two

Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore, 1667

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 979)

Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) 89:19-52 (evening)

Judges 12:1-7

Acts 5:12-26

John 3:1-21

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Nicodemus is unusual. He is one of the leaders who comes to Jesus with interest and sympathy. Most people of position and respect have found fault with the ititerant Galilean. But Nicodemus approaches Jesus with the respectful title, “Teacher.” “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus then takes Nicodemus to his edge. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus is an observant Jew, following the laws of Torah in a life of obedience and devotion. Since he is an acknowledged leader, he is probably a person of some accomplishment. In other words, he is managing his life with some degree of competence and dignity. But something must be lacking. He approaches Jesus with curiosity.

Jesus goes immediately to what must be Nicodemus’ edge: You must be “born from above/born anew.” Jesus will contrast the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit/wind. A new life from a new source. This is the next step for this good man. Nicodemus leaves this story appearing perplexed, but later we will see him standing up in the Sanhedrin, arguing for for due process for Jesus at his trial, and Nicodemus will help Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus’ body.

Nicodemus is a good patron for all of us who are basically good, conscientious, and competent people. Those of us who follow the rules and seem to do okay. We are respectful and respected people who have accomplished a degree of success. But when you have done what you are supposed to do and established a sound reputation and degree of prosperity, sometimes there is a nagging sense of incompletion, “Is that all there is?”

Jesus invites this good man into a new self-understanding — a living relationship with a lively God. It is such a different way of being that it is like being born anew, born from above. It is unpredictable and light-hearted. It is more like sailing than motor boating.

In this new life, Jesus invites Nicodemus to attune himself to the subtle movement of the Spirit, as ephemeral as the wind. He is to let his intuition and wonder guide him into a mystery of divine adventure. When the wind of intuition moves a bit — he is to stop like Moses before the bush and allow himself to move with the Spirit.

All of his life Nicodemus has followed the conventional way — doing the correct and expected thing, setting goals and reaching them. Now he is to be open to new possibilities — available to turn in a moment should his heart be touched, willing to move into the unknowing direction should his intuitive curiosity be aroused.

For those of us with controlled and predictable lives, this can be an unnerving and thrilling invitation. Can we give up control? Can we let go of our comfortable, conventional way of living by the rules? Can we be free and responsive to the movement of the Spirit?

It is an exciting but risky invitation. It may call for great change and struggle and sacrifice. But it is walking in the light and living in love. It is the invitation into the kingdom of God.

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