Illumination by degrees, but only if we stay in the kitchen!
The story of Nicodemus meeting with Christ is our story. We are Nicodemus, and Peter, and Mary Magdalene, and Thomas, and the Blind man, and the Paralytic, and all the rest, whom we have read about or will read about in this season; for them and us, illumination comes over time, and always with great effort and waiting on our part.
There is a constant theme throughout this Paschal period, up to and including Pentecost. It is the sure and certain aspect of everyone’s life – we come to an understanding of holy things slowly, and only if we struggle and endure.
We read about these people, such as Nicodemus, and still we do not really “get it”. He was a flesh and blood person; He did not understand all things, he made mistakes, he sinned, and he was confused. He was just like us, or shall we say, he had our weaknesses. It remains to be seen if we have a share in his strengths.
Look for a Saint in the bible that did not have feet of clay! Peter, David, all the Apostles – anyone! They struggled with their human condition, and it took them time to get better – to understand, to do, to repent, to become what they were made to be. So it is with us.
So many stories, and throughout them all, a golden thread – God’s grace is sufficient even if it does not seem sufficient, even if we cannot feel it at all, even if our weak-willed humanity gets in our own way as we crawl towards God! If we wait, and act upon what we know, God will help us. It does not matter what we feel – it matters what we do, and that we endure.
Nicodemus is a perfect example of this golden thread. He came to Jesus by night. Why? Because he was a Pharisee, and he was afraid of being found out by his peers! This is not an auspicious beginning for the man we would later call “equal to the Apostles”, because he was the first to evangelize Great Britain.
Nicodemus knew there was something different and profound about this man Jesus, because he has heard him speak in a way unlike any other man, with authority, unlike the Pharisees or Scribes. He was a thoughtful man, good, seeking God, but the ensuing conversation shows he was very confused, and the Lord even rebuked him because of this, saying:
“Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”
Jesus told him fantastic things, and Nicodemus must have gone away more confused than when he first came. We know he remained a Pharisee; he did not become a constant follower of Jesus. Perhaps he was still afraid of what would happen to him if he declared his loyalty to Jesus, perhaps he was still very confused about Jesus and his teaching. None of this matters. We know he endured; he wrestled with these things, and he came to know the truth, because after the crucifixion, he became brave, and took the body of Jesus from Pilate, to prepare it for burial, ostensibly ruining his career as a Pharisee, and endangering his life.
It took some time for Nicodemus to understand. As his understanding grew, he found the courage to act upon it, and now we call him “Equal to the Apostles.”
It is like this with everyone, you and me too. We struggle with faith, we wrestle with ourselves. Sometimes it feels like we are losing. We know what we should become and we are not becoming it; we have times of confusion, sorrow, unbelief in various forms. This happens to everyone! Anybody who says they have never had a moment when their faith was weak, or even barely there – is a liar!
Our weakness does not matter. Our confusion does not matter. Not even our sins matter. The only thing that will kill us if we quit. Nicodemus spent three years pondering the things Jesus said to him; he did not quit. As we learn, we must do. When we will learn, and how – these things are not revealed to us, because:
“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
We have been born of water – we have been baptized. We will be born of the Spirit; we must wait, and endure, and act upon the truth as we understand it and develop a greater ability to act on it. If we do this, then truly Nicodemus story, will be our story in every way.
Christ is risen!
John 3:1-15 1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The Explanation of the Holy Gospel according to St John, by Blessed Theophylact, published by Chrysostom Press – http://www.chrysostompress.org/. ALL FOUR BOOKS ARE HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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