Jim Jarrard is currently chair of Pullen’s coordinating council. He is a former Baptist minister, and recently retired from the NC Department of Health and Human Services where he served as deputy director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.
Text: John 3:18-21
When you wander the streets of the Government complex in downtown Raleigh, especially during the season when the legislature is in session, you notice the cars parked along the curbs and in the covered reserved spaces in the municipal lots. It’s pretty easy to pick out the legislators, because they have “Vote for Me” bumper stickers and license plates that say “House” or “Senate” along with a low number befitting their rank. Members of the Council of State, and of course the governor and lieutenant governor and attorney general and others have very low plate numbers. As a rule of thumb, the lower the number on your license plate, the farther up the government food chain you probably are.
I simply mention this to observe that Nicodemus would have had a very low license plate number. Nicodemus is a Pharisee. A “leader of the Jews,” he was in one of the two major parties in the political and religious landscape, and a member of the Sanhedrin, the primary legislative and judicial body in the city. He comes to Jesus by night, in the dark. For John, the themes of darkness and light pervade the Gospel. The Gospel begins with a revisitation of the beginning of Genesis, “In the beginning” was the Word, the LOGOS, the creative and intentional act of God. The Word becomes flesh, lives here on earth, and brings life itself, that life is the light of all people.
Jesus had been going from town to town, doing remarkable things like healing people and changing water to wine, and these things were impressive enough for the likes of Nicodemus to pay a certain deference to Jesus. “We know you’re somebody,” Nicodemus says, “because of the wonderful things you do,” kind of like the Wizard of Oz. Nicodemus recognizes that you can’t ignore somebody like that, but that’s not the same as understanding them. Now all Pharisees may not have been as literalistic and clueless as Jesus takes Nicodemus to be here. They were more in touch with the common person than the Sadducees, who considered themselves more elite, centering their faith in the Temple as opposed to the Pharisees who centered their focus on the Law and the laws. Jesus has lots of confrontations with them in the gospels, but Nicodemus is mentioned only in John.