Nicodemus: under the cover of darkness

“You must be Born again!”   It’s a phrase that, ripped from its original context, is more associated with demanding preachers than kind friends, more with overnight conversions than of secret conversations. Many a preacher has waved a finger in the air, insisting that you *must* be born again – right now, without delay, and *you* must decide to do it.

But the story itself has none of this conversion pressure. Read it from start to finish, eliminating any preachers’ rhetoric from your mind, and you find a conversation, not a conversion.

The story hangs on two main metaphors.  The first is darkness: Nicodemus came to Jesus “under the cover of night”. Why? Perhaps Nicodemus was simply thinking that he needed a one-to-one with Jesus; he was always surrounded by crowds, and Nicodemus had serious questions he wanted to ask.  Or perhaps he was afraid of the consequences of being seen with Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a religious leader, and according to John’s gospel, his colleagues were pretty antagonistic towards Jesus. The “darkness” imagery does suggest an element of covert activity – but it also alludes to the idea that Nicodemus is “in the dark” in the sense of not understanding what is happening to him. And despite what preachers often make of this story, the conversation ended with Nicodemus disappearing, still under the cover of night, still confused, still not understanding.

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