As a “grown up” with no kids and no front porch for Trick or Treaters, I’m home this evening and playing around with a story. I’ve been imagining stories for years before bed, taking the characters from a movie or fable, and twisting them a bit by placing them in a different time period, or wondering what happened after “The end”, or having stories interact with one another. These re-writes could take several months as I played out scenes before I fell asleep, not always knowing how the story would end until I got there. As I keep working and working and working (etc.) on my dissertation, I’m also finding a greater need to write without thought of editors, citations, or significant findings.
So below is an attempt to pull a story from my pillowcase and push it into cyberspace…
A life spent in the scriptures, searching for answers and waiting for there to be no more questions. Nicodemus was a leader in the synagogue. His place in the social order was secure as faithful Jewish men from villages around the countryside sought out his wisdom. And yet there was still something missing, something that could not be found in any scroll or temple service. He would stay up late into the night, reading and rereading by firelight in hopes that this time in would make sense. This time the glory of God reveal itself. Some nights he would walk the streets; praying that the God who spoke to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Jeremiah might have mercy on this searching, waiting man.
So many questions. Such questions. Others might look at it as a lack of faith, perhaps evidence that he should not be a leader or guide for others. Nicodemus was told to look to the stories and find comfort there. That the past miracles of God laid bare his power and wisdom. Therefore he spent his days looking back over the story. Listening to his mentors who said that truth was on those pages and he should be able to find comfort there. With a bowed head and word of thanks, he appreciated the words of his elders and would turn back to the strolls, where he could find truth but never comfort.
Because Nicodemus saw missing pieces in the story. He saw a God who had walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, passed his shadow over Moses, and whispered to Elijah; and now that same God had gone silent. He saw laws set to protect families from murder, adultery, theft, lies, and jealousy. But what about anger and lust. And how could a person possibly ever keep up with all of the sacrifices needed for all of the sins committed in the heart. And Nicodemus saw Job begging God for an advocate to speak for him, and God did not respond. Was it because Job had no right to ask for such a thing? Or was it because an advocate was already coming?
These were the questions that kept Nicodemus up at night. Ones that he could not share with others in the synagogue for fear that he would be called a heretic. Walking in the night, while the rest of the city slept, he could ask his questions aloud and know that only the wind would hear. The wind would wrap around him as it wove among shops and homes. Dried leaves tumbled alongside him, as though the wind was offering him companions for the journey. And walking with the wind at his back, Nicodemus knew how to find his way back home before morning light. If only he could have answers instead of questions by then.
Sitting in the shadow of the city gates, he would wonder about those walking past him toward the market, the temple, or their homes. Did any of them have the same questions he did? Did any of them feel like something, or perhaps someone was missing in the story of their people? Nicodemus prayed to God for the courage to ask and then, when once again he failed, would walk to the temple to offer sacrifice for his lack of faith. The questions to the scrolls and to the wind were the working out of this faith. Not being willing to ask those questions of his fellow men; that was how Nicodemus knew that he was a man in need of salvation from his weaknesses. He cared too much for his synagogue life to put it in danger for the sake of answers. For that, he needed forgiveness from the Lord.