The Other Thief in the Night

Second Sunday in Lent  |  John 3:1-17

The relationship between Nicodemus and Jesus is strange, as is the story in the third chapter of John’s Gospel.

Candlestick at NightNicodemus comes to Jesus, acting out the role of a thief in the night, though that phrase is not used to describe the messiah in John’s Gospel. In this gospel, the thief comes to steal (John 10:10). Are we to consider Nicodemus as a thief, coming to take what is not his?

Another oddity is the shifting voice of verse 11. Suddenly Jesus is speaking in the plural—we speak of what we know…what we have seen. The same shift occurs at the end of the gospel in 21:24, where we hear the voice of the Johannine community speaking. 1 John 1:1 offers the same plural voice, a similar attestation to having seen. Are we seeing layers in the text, the words of the early community placed alongside the words of Jesus?

How about the reference to Moses and “the serpent in the wilderness” in verse 14? Did anybody really understand the first time this image occurs in Numbers 21:9? It sounds less like faith and more like magic.

Perhaps it is a suitable objection. After all, a great deal of what passes for faith is actually magical thinking cleverly transformed into religion. Magic is the practice of ways to control hidden power, ways to get the deity to do what one wishes to be done. The question is whether that is so very different from the way most of us practice Christianity: if we do this, God will do that.

True faith does not ask for a response from God. True faith is a response to God. Anything else is just us fooling ourselves.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Spirit of God is like the wind, coming from places we cannot imagine and going anywhere it likes. The wind, like the rain, does not touch only the righteous. Instead, the wind blows across everything in its path.

Nicodemus found that God was already waiting for him, even in the dark.