July 25th (words 679)
We might have asked the disciples: “What was it like to sit next to the creator of the universe?” You’re sitting there, face to face with Jesus just after the realization that he is the Messiah, the chosen one of God, God in the flesh in fact. What do you say? What kind of conversation partner was Jesus when he walked the earth?
A couple great looks of this come from the story of Nicodemus and the Woman at Samaria. These two examples come early in the book of John - before Jesus becomes a celebrity that people come to for healing and a new teaching. It also comes before there is the full realization of who Jesus is. We’ll look at the conversation Jesus has with Nicodemus.
Nicodemus meets with Jesus at night – possibly to protect his image as a Pharisee. He opens the conversation with a compliment that shows he has his eyes open. He takes a side that is pro-Jesus – saying he is from God, not from the enemy. I can imagine that he was waiting for Jesus to thank him for his compliment. “Thank-you Nicodemus – you are a perceptive observer, you have rightly grasped who I am, I tip my hat to your intelligence.” What was Nicodemus expecting from Jesus? Perhaps he wasn’t looking for any sort of compliment – but a teaching. Perhaps he complimented Jesus in order to get more teaching for his hungry heart.
He says: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Let’s pick this apart. First Nicodemus isn’t alone in his assessment – he says: “we know.” Jesus divided the crowds and the different Jewish communities – people loved him and the things he could do for them or they hated him.
Second, they know Jesus is a teacher. He is one who teachers. Crowds, thousands would come to hear Jesus teach. Not only did he have new teaching, he taught in a new way – as one with authority.
Third, Nicodemus points out that Jesus is a teacher come from God. Nicodemus interprets the miracles as a way to support his teaching – He is not just a dispenser of spiritual medicine that heals. The miracles are actually signs from God which gives strength and power to the words he says.
There was a lot that could have been praised in the words of Nicodemus. But Jesus doesn’t give a word of praise for Nicodemus. Instead, in verse 3 it says, “Jesus answered him…” When you read what Jesus says it doesn’t look like much of an answer to me. He pitches Nicodemus a curveball that was hard for him to catch – let alone hit.
We need to adjust our understanding of the little compliment Nicodemus gives Jesus so that the response he gets answers his unasked question. We must read between the lines to find the question his words are indirectly asking.
It becomes clear that Nicodemus wasn’t fishing for a compliment – he was paying a compliment to a teacher so that he could hear more teaching. His unasked question, lying in the look of his eyes, asks Jesus for more. “Teach me!” Nicodemus asks.
For me, this small detail re-orients the whole context of this discussion. Instead of Jesus ignoring the words of Nicodemus in order to disorient him… he answers the question lying in the hungry heart of Nicodemus. He gives him what he is hungry for but it gives him indigestion – because he doesn’t know how to take it! This is powerful – because Nicodemus can’t simply add to what he already knows. He needs to have a reorientation, a transformation, a metamorphosis, from here to there.
He needs to start with Jesus and go from there… It starts with a new birth. It starts with becoming like a little child – accepting by faith. If you accept Jesus as a teacher – whose teaching is supported by signs from God – then he reorients your understanding.