March 14, 2011

Who is this "We" you speak of?

When I recall the story of Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus (which I rarely do), I always think of it as a two party story. Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the safety of the darkness. Just two people getting together for a clandestine theological conversation.

This morning as I read the story in John's Gospel, I noticed something that took me back, Nicodemus isn't acting alone. He hasn't gone rogue all by himself. He says to Jesus,"

Rabbi, WE know that you are a teacher who has come from God..."

We? Who is this "We" you speak of? Certainly, Nicodemus didn't speak for all of the Pharisees nor for all the leaders of Israel. He had just uttered the words that would be his demise, "tear down this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days." The wheels were already turning. The leaders were already nervous. The Pharisees were already looking for ways to rid themselves of this Rabbi called Jesus.

But Nicodemus tells us that not everyone hated Jesus because of what he was doing and saying. Some, in fact, thought he had to be from God, if for no other reason, because of the signs he was performing. (And Jesus was just getting warmed up.)

So who is this "We"? I don't know, but it is certain that there was at least a few members of the Jewish leadership who believed what Jesus was teaching. (As an aside, it seems only appropriate on the week of Nicodemus that the Pope's new book would exonerate the Jews in Jesus' death). Who of this "We" still felt that Jesus was from God three years later? As the pressure grew? As the Romans murmured? As the Legion closed in?

One of the dangers in reading these stories 2000 years later is that we lose the context. The place. The time. The background. The story begins to exist outside of space and time with Jesus and Nicodemus sitting on a cloud, sipping tea, and talking about being born again.

But that isn't how it happened. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, turned tables in the Temple and met in back alleys with folks who were too afraid to talk with him in the light of day. Pacts were formed, allegiances were tested, immunity idols were destroyed (or is that Survivor?). One of my goals this Lent is to bring the Incarnation straight on through. The messiness of God being born a human being. The irreverence. The insanity. The frivolity. The prodigal nature of God. Today that messiness is wrapped up in one two letter word, "we." Who is this "We"?

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