Our newest sermon series, Jesus and the Other, explores the revolutionary way Jesus interacted with people, breaking the human-constructed barriers of class, race, gender, religion and marginalization due to physical or mental health. The following monologue depicts the perspective of the "other" in such an encounter: Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).
Written by Rick McKinley, Read by Vandoren Wheeler
The night I came to see you was cloaked in darkness. I like the symbolism there. The night sky mirrored my own understanding. I had given my life to serve our God. The Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the prophets and poets all taught me from the time I could talk. Holy days had framed my life’s rhythm since I was a child.
In my teens, I was told that had an aptitude for the Torah and a gift for teaching the sacred word of God. A leading Rabbi of the day took me in and trained me to serve my people as a scholar and leader. Years later I would begin my work in the party of the Pharisees who had scribes who handled the text and thinkers to lead the people to obey. I was the latter.
Maintaining a holy life is no easy thing. The rules must be upheld; moral commands must be followed. How we wash our dishes, how we wash our hands are all a part of what it meant to lead a holy life. There were also times of prayer and giving of alms to the poor.
I grew in popularity and authority. I was a leader of leaders, and by the time I met you, I felt I had a firm handle of the holy word of God and a disciplined practice that formed my life. I also acquired what came from wielding such authority. We were well compensated and honored by most, though hated by many. This is the price you pay when you lead for God.
Our people the Jews needed shepherds like me. Many of them cannot even read. So without our guidance, how would they ever live a holy life? The people needed us to model, teach and judge them according to the law, so that Israel might be the holy people of God who behave in a way that pleases Him.
Model. Teach. Judge.
Then there was you, a Rabbi claiming to be the Son of Man, a title reserved for the Messiah.
Word about you spread throughout the region, and your teaching and miracles caught the attention of my colleagues and I. Your teaching was powerful I must admit, but too informal for my taste. You taught with such authority that the council of the Pharisees was soon concerned about you.
I had heard you teach once, when a group of us went to evaluate the ministry of John the Baptist. I admit that I was more than intrigued that day, the whispers of the prophets and Moses blew through your teaching and your wisdom was beyond your peers.
The miracles though? Those were clearly from God, which in my mind meant that God had sent you. A prophet perhaps. My colleagues were not so easily persuaded. Most of them forming opinions rather quickly, that you were a charlatan who was leading the masses astray.
That night I met with you; I was on a two-fold mission. I needed to assess your teaching so that I could report back, I wanted first-hand knowledge if we were going to accuse you. But now I see that I was drawn by a deeper curiosity. The curiosity of my soul.
As we spoke, I didn’t impress you. This was obvious. Me in my fine robes and tassels, and you in your simple Tunic. You said I lacked understanding. You felt that I, being a Pharisee, should understand the things you spoke of. But for the life of me I could not understand it.
“You must be born again,” you said. What nonsense was this? Is a man supposed to reenter his mother’s womb when fully grown? You were speaking in riddles.
The Spirit like the wind blows where it wishes, on and on you spoke. But the phrase that struck my heart like lightning and began this change inside me, was this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Oh the vast contrast between your words and our way of life! As a Pharisee, most of what we do is use scriptures to condemn. My calling which once stemmed from a deep love for God had become a faith of condemnation.
I understood the scriptures, said the messiah was to come, but in an outpouring love of God for the world? I didn’t see that one coming. A God who loved? Not one who condemned? Yet here I was, condemning for a living. Condemning people, practices, ideas, behaviors - you name it we condemned it.
For us Pharisees? Love was not our expertise. I found myself longing for that love as I walked home, and understood now why the masses clamored to you. A loving God who sends his own son to save, is this not the desire of every human heart?
I only spoke of my meeting with you to one other person. Joseph of Arimathea. He too had followed your teaching and was drawn to your words. But we were only two men.
In a large council with the High Priest holding much of the power, ours would be a minority opinion. And to be honest, Joseph and I were cowardly. We had our lives, our careers, reputations on the line. To admit to believing that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah would be the end of all of that.
I did speak up on one occasion. We had gathered to once again discuss what to do with you. A few of the more outspoken members had riled up the whole council, and their anger created a growing consensus that you needed to be condemned.
I spoke up on your behalf. Well, in a sense I spoke up. I pointed out that our law would not condemn a man who had not been tried and found guilty. They simply wrote me off, telling me to read my bible.
Then we had our way with you. Our condemnation, which we had professionalized would be the very thing that sent you to the Roman courts and then to a Roman cross.
I did not speak up; I did not defend. I stood there in my unbelief and said nothing as they pronounced your death sentence. What you suffered was unimaginable, and it might as well have been my hands that pounded those nails into your wrists.
By the time I finally mustered the courage to say something, it was too late. You had breathed your last and died, head hung with crown of thorns mocking your brow.
Joseph and I, ashamed of how we had failed our fellow Jew, decided that you should at least be honored. Joseph offered his burial plot, and I paid for the embalming spices, 75 pounds worth. It was the very least we could do.
Walking to Joseph’s tomb with the spices that day, I recalled the words that you said to me that night a few years back, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness.”
In the wilderness, when our people were dying from the venom of viper bites. God commanded that they could simply look up in faith to the bronze snake Moses held on the long stake high in the air and be healed.
“So, the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him!”
I practically tipped over the cart I was pushing, loaded with your burial spices. You had been lifted up, high on a cross, dying an innocent man! You had died in my place for the religiously guilty man that I was. Sickened by the venom of self-righteousness, I was living proof that under these robes and tassels is nothing but a man dead in unbelief.
But I had looked up. I looked up and saw you there lifted high on that cross, and the wind of the Spirit picked up and blew through my soul. And at that moment burying my self-righteous, loveless sinful, prideful life; buried it under those spices and herbs that wrapped around your dead body. The Holy Spirit who brought you back to life, THAT same Spirit breathed new life inside the empty Pharisee I had become.
Though I was an old man by then, that day I was born a second time just as you had spoken, saved from condemnation by the overflowing love of the Father. Love - not religion - saved me that day. When I had failed God, his Son, your holy book and your people, the people I was called to lead, I was saved by love! When I had deserved to hang where you had hung, I was saved by love!
There is only one reason for my new life, and it has nothing to do with my righteousness or religious life.
The Reason for my new life is simply this: