Nicodemus and I
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
submitted March 13, 2014
What if I could have been a woman sitting on a rooftop, hidden by baskets, or clay pots, or something, innocently carding wool by the last rays of the setting sun, when Nicodemus and Jesus met? Improbable, perhaps…maybe I’m just invisible—a time traveler from the 21st century, halfway across the world. [All scripture, italicized, is from NASB]
I know I’m up here too late. The sun is nearly gone, I can barely see my wool—though my fingers know well what to do with it—and supper will be late. But a few minutes ago I saw Jesus come up to sit alone at the low parapet, gazing at the sunset. My hands have grown still in my lap, and I am dividing my time between watching the colors transform the sky and change every second, and watching him watching the sky. I see his shoulders rise and fall in a sigh and wonder if, like me, he is calmed and rejuvenated by this panorama.
I wonder if he knows I’m here. I should go and say something…I tense as I hear footfalls on the stone steps leading up to the roof. A man’s head and shoulders appear and I gasp, then pull back hastily behind the pile of baskets that hides me. Nicodemus?! I really must make myself known, but how can I do it now? I hear Jesus greet him quietly and wonder if they had planned this. Then I hear Nicodemus’ well-known, slightly pompous voice.
“Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Still hidden, I roll my eyes. Sure, Nicodemus, you believe that. I hold my breath to better hear Jesus’ calm voice.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
I wrinkle my brow. Born again? What does that mean? Luckily for me, Nicodemus voices my question, though his tone is more one of expounding on the Torah than one of honest inquiry. They do love to debate and pick things apart, these learned men!
“How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
I don’t mind his tone—I just want to hear Jesus’ answer. Forgetting to stay hidden, I lean forward. Jesus is in profile to me, and I see that he is smiling slightly. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
There is silence for a moment. I’m glad, because I’m trying to replay this answer, puzzling over it in my mind. Born of water—well, I’m a mother three times, so I know what that means. Born of the Spirit—somehow I can feel what that might mean, too, though I couldn’t put it into words. A breeze ruffles my hair and the forgotten wool in my lap. Flesh is flesh, spirit is…Does he mean our spirits can be children of God’s Spirit? My heart beats faster suddenly, and again Nicodemus unknowingly speaks for me.
“How can these things be?”
Good question! For the first time, the teacher’s voice sounds honestly perplexed.
I hear a gentle laugh and peer around the baskets again. Jesus’ face is alight with my very favorite expression in all the world. When he looks like that, I feel everything is possible. “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
I am holding my breath again, this time feeling shocked. Is he really saying as clearly as I think I’m hearing him, that he came down from heaven?! I know he means himself when he says “Son of Man.” The “lifting up” part escapes me entirely, but “eternal life” catches at my heart. I believe, Jesus! I do! I put a hand over my mouth to keep from calling it out, and realize once again that I am eavesdropping shamelessly. But Jesus is speaking again.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
I may never breathe again. I feel as if I’ll fall over right here, and they’ll find me tomorrow. He isn’t just calling himself God’s son, which is shocking enough, he is literally saying he is God’s “only begotten Son”! Begotten! As if he truly shares God’s being in ways we others never could. As for saved, and judged, and not judged…all I can say is, I’ll be lying awake all night trying to puzzle this all out. And memorize it! Memorize it so I can never forget it. “God so loved the world,” I breathe out not quite silently, and put a hand over my mouth again. It’s not what the other rabbis say, that God loves us.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
I can’t see Nicodemus’ face, but he has fallen as silent as I am. I turn my eyes to the thin line of light on the horizon. Holy One, may I love the light. May I always and ever love the Light.