I am slowly working my way through this reading of John’s Gospel. There’s just so much happening within a few verses that I can’t help but make several stops along the way. My last post was about John 3:16, and in this post I’m actually gonna back up a bit to verse 2 of that same chapter.
“There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night…” John 3:1-2a CEB
I think I’ve always appreciated Jesus’ willingness to meet with Nicodemus at night. Nicodemus has so much to lose if he’s seen with the troublemaker from Galilee. But more than that, John 3 reveals that this Pharisee is wrestling with questions and ideas that, if fully embraced, will change his entire life. If he believes all that Jesus says in this chapter, it will not just change his place in Judean society; it will change the way he sees and interacts with God. Y’all – that’s not small stuff. In the time and space that Nicodemus lives, Jesus offers him a safe space to work out his spiritual evolution. Nicodemus is blessed he has someone who will ‘meet him at night.’
Who in your life would you say is open to creating safe, private space for you to wrestle with your questions, doubts and changes without fear of being ‘outed’ before you were ready? Yes, we all need community. But we all also need one or two people that can ‘meet us at night’ and hear the things we aren’t ready to make public yet.
A few years ago, one of our JU students asked me to meet them in the afternoon on campus. We were initially meeting in the Snickers lounge, but upon arrival she anxiously asked if we could go somewhere else. ‘There are people here that I’m not comfortable talking around.’ I told her it was totally fine to move. So we went to the Student Commons. As we were just about to sit down she said with deep frustration, ‘What’s she doing here – ugh! Can we go somewhere else?’ She began to explain that while she didn’t really wanna have this meeting with me, she needed to tell me some things that she wasn’t ready to tell anyone else. We eventually found an outside gazebo that was in the middle of campus. She could see anyone approaching with at least a good minute to change the subject. I was doing my best to hide my eagerness to hear whatever was on her mind.
“I’m gay and I need to know if God still loves me.” In that moment, all the location moves and paranoia of listening ears made sense. This wasn’t the first person to come out to me, and it would not be the last either. I knew that every word, facial expression and bodily gesture that I made needed to be done with grace and compassion. We talked (or better I listened) for about 2 hours that day. By the time we finished, there were still more questions than answers. All the things that happened after that initial conversation are a part of my friend’s personal story. But it was, and continues to be, a great privilege to create a safe space for someone at one of life’s intersections. When I think of John 3 and Jesus meeting Nicodemus at night, I think of that afternoon at the gazebo on JU’s Campus.
We’re all walking around with questions that feel problematic, seemingly crazy ideas and decisions that could change our social standing. There are some issues that are best worked out in private with trusted friends, counselors, and pastors before one goes public. In my view, Jesus dignifies the sacred and confidential space with this late night talk with a Pharisee. This moment gives us hope and courage to allow one or two people in as we wrestle with who we are becoming.