I have some good news for you. Staying up late might not be so bad.
So, what’s been keeping you up at night lately? What’s happening in your brain on those nights when you just can’t seem to shut it all down and get some sleep?
Could it be the cost-of-living crisis and anxiety about finances? Is it a struggle with mental health? Did the show you just binged leave you a bit over-stimulated?
Are you one of those 42% of pastors thinking about quitting church work? Are you lying awake wondering what else you could possibly do for a living?
Perhaps you’re the parent of a trans kid, and you’re tossing and turning your way through a night of worrying about how lawmakers in your state might target your family.
Is it exam season? Are you studying for finals?
Is it that you’re a night owl and you only just got home from your favorite restaurant (missing a word so I guessed with restaurant)?
Maybe you had one of those days when everything is so hectic, you need a couple of hours to yourself to decompress. I hope it’s not because you’re doom scrolling with the covers pulled up over your head.
Ok, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who’s been getting a solid 8 hours of sleep a night lately. But surely you know what it feels like to lie awake at night? Remember Christmas Eve when you were a kid?
For Nicodemus, it must have started with all the commotion at the temple. That had to have been what caught his attention. That’s when he must have really noticed Jesus for the first time.
There aren’t many other places Nicodemus could have encountered Jesus, according to John’s account of the Jesus story. There isn’t much background leading up to the meeting of Nicodemus and Jesus in chapter 3 of the Gospel. Besides the temple, Jesus hasn’t shown up much of anyplace else besides the wedding at Cana.
Nicodemus probably wasn’t on that guestlist. And even if he had been, seeing water turned into wine doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to give a person insomnia.
But watching an angry prophet chase merchants off the temple grounds with a whip? And hearing him rail against religious corruption? That’s the sort of thing that could keep a religious leader up at night.
“This Jesus,” Nicodemus probably thought to himself as he stared up at his shadowy ceiling. “He wants people to change. He wants religion to change. What if he’s onto something?”
It’s not hard to imagine this Judean leader getting up from his bed and sneaking out under the cover of darkness to track down the prophet Jesus.
Yes, I’m taking some imaginative liberties here. Maybe Jesus’ prophetic activism really was keeping Nicodemus awake at night. Maybe he was also trying for discretion. Nicodemus was a religious leader, after all, and religious leaders know what it’s like to struggle in the space between personal convictions and public relations.
Talk about keeping someone at night!
Nicodemus saw something meaningful, authoritative, and even divine in Jesus. He wanted to hear more of what Jesus had to say. But he wanted to keep things off the record, because he knew that getting too close to activist prophets is bad optics.
Some readers of this story have been hard on Nicodemus through the years. His character has come to represent anyone lacking the courage to put their convictions into practice. Given John’s fixation on light and dark as metaphors for good and evil, it’s not unreasonable to be suspicious of the guy sneaking around in the dark so he can meet Jesus in secret.
But just as our concepts of light as good and dark as bad require revision, we need to have another look at Nicodemus.
Maybe it was internal conflict that kept Nicodemus up at night. Maybe he needed to show a lot more courage. Maybe there really was something disreputable about the way he went looking for Jesus when everyone was asleep.
Everyone except Jesus, that is.
Perhaps this story shows us how, in the calm darkness of the night, our souls can find the quiet we need to listen for a life-changing word.
Jesus’ word is one of the most beloved and memorable in all of Scripture. It’s a word about new beginnings and rebirth. It’s a word about a life attuned to the moving of the Divine Spirit, about the promise of healing, and about God’s relentless love for the world.
And all this good news gets uncovered at night.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a “Lenten Lectionary” series for Lent 2023. Each week, an article will be published reflecting on one or more of the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. The previous articles in the series are:
Lenten Lectionary | Through the Wastelands by Christopher B. Harbin
After 20-plus years in Baptist ministry, Rev. Junia Joplin (she/her) now serves on the clergy team at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto – a vibrant, inclusive, and progressive faith community and human rights church. Junia is either a basic suburban hockey mom or a sign of the apocalypse, depending on who you ask. She is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board.