Nicodemus on the escalator

President Mugabe occasionally invents new words. One of them is ‘nicodemously’ by which he means doing things stealthily, secretly. It carries a bad interpretation of acting deceitfully. But perhaps all it means is trying to find out the truth discreetly.


That is what the original Nicodemus was doing (John Ch. 3). He did not want his fellow Jewish leaders to know that he had an open mind about Jesus. He was rewarded with a memorable conversation about being ‘born from above’ and the ‘wind blowing where it pleases.’

But he doesn’t get it and Jesus says to him, ‘how can you understand heavenly things if you don’t understand earthly things?’

The whole conversation is a bit mysterious but Nicodemus perseveres in his search and we meet him again in chapters 7 and 19 by which time he is openly a disciple. The heavenly and the earthly with a ladder between them (John1:51) is a recurring theme in the Fourth Gospel.

‘Noone has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven’ (3:13). And he came down from heaven to reveal God to people and to lead them ‘up’ to the ‘fullness of life’ (Chap 10: 10). Sometimes quite dramatically.

Clayton Fountain was a US marine who murdered a fellow serviceman and went on to kill four others while in prison. The authorities did not know how to restrain him short of building a special solitary confinement cage. But while in prison – he could not be executed as he came under Federal law in the US – he had a conversion experience and became a new person. He died in 2004 having repented of his crimes and been welcomed into membership of a Cistercian Abbey community in Missouri – though he never left prison.

Normally people live on the flat! They go about their lives predictably without great expectations. They cope with problems as they come and hope to get by. But they do not pause to listen to what is deepest within. Though Clayton was ‘the most dangerous man in the Federal system’ he did pause and he found a restlessness within him which made him reach beyond the expectations we might have of a criminal. He found a thirst for God.

If we go to town we often find escalators which take us up to higher levels and down again. Jacob once saw a ladder to heaven in a dream (Genesis 28:10) and angels going up and down.

All these images can teach us that there is a constant interaction between God and us. He is drawing us (John 6:44) to a new way of life that is quite different from the ordinary. Nicodemus discovered this. When he was first drawn to Jesus he did not leave it there – he steadily followed up on it.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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