Have you ever gone somewhere looking for answers and left with more questions? It is a common life experience, happening often when we visit our doctor, when we ask our teenagers about their decisions, when we study an issue...
Somehow being a spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthy person can only happen when we are able to engage our questions and live with both the answers and uncertainties that are sure to come. A sense of wonder and mystery can be embraced instead of feared.
This story of Nicodemus is one of my favourite Jesus stories because of all the questions and wondering it makes me do.
Nicodemus has questions. Are they his own or on behalf of a group? Does he come to Jesus at night because he is afraid to be seen? Is he embarrassed? Is this simply an initial inquiry so he doesn't want either pro-Jesus or anti-Jesus groups to see him? Is the night the only time that Jesus might be free to have an extended/relaxed conversation?
He has questions, but Nicodemus starts the discussion with a statement. "We know that you are a teacher who has come from God..." Jesus doesn't even acknowledge the statement, but goes straight to a mysterious assertion. "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above..."
That sends the discussion into a mysterious place talking about both body and spirit, the seen and the unseen. Jesus makes a good point that if the pharisees are having trouble believing even things they see with their own eyes, how can they possibly hope to understand and explain God's ways of spirit? The example of the wind, something they hear but can't see, is great. They are to teach what they know, but remain humble and open to what they do not understand-open to learning what Jesus has to offer. If they acknowledge Jesus as from God, like they say they do, then why is there resistance?
As if that isn't enough of a challenge, Jesus goes on with the very hard teaching that he must be lifted up (sacrificed). Just like looking at the snake Moses lifted up, looking at Jesus will heal the people. Poor Nicodemus! Lucky Nicodemus! He has so many questions, he lacks understanding, but he is trying and he is questioning.
Then Jesus offers words of reassurance into the confusion. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son into the world that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
Here Jesus makes it simple. Go ahead and struggle with questions, that is good, that is part of making sense of life. But know that getting all the answers right isn't what is ultimately necessary and it is impossible for us. What we must understand is simple. God is love. God offers an inclusive "whosoever believes" that doesn't depend on dotting every I or crossing every T of the law. God's love is for everyone, and there is mystery in it that belongs to the creator of the wind. This is an amazing thing to say to a Pharisee, whose whole life is dedicated to doing things right according to very particular laws. A leader from whom the people expect to get answers.
I wonder what answers and questions Nicodemus took back to the other Pharisees after this late night discussion? What are the faith questions I need answers for and what can I comfortably leave in the realm of God's mystery?