Nicodemus is an interesting figure in the gospel. He is a devout man and someone who is intrigued by Jesus. Nicodemus believes the Jesus is a teacher of God and that the signs which Jesus does prove that God is with him yet Nicodemus wants to fit Jesus into his own paradigm, into his own narrative about how God should act. Before the passage we just heard we are told that Nicodemus comes to Jesus, “by night”. Nicodemus is attracted to Jesus but he is still in the darkness of his own presumptions. How often we are like Nicodemus. How often we know people like Nicodemus.
The dialogue that Jesus has with Nicodemus is a continual invitation (using a play on words) by Jesus to Nicodemus to take that necessary step in faith into the fullness of life – the Kingdom of God – that Jesus alone is the way into. It is an invitation to step away from our limited certainties of how things are and will always be (including God) into God’s own free action of love.
One such invitation (and play on words) is found in the term “lifted up”. “Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The Greek word for “lifted up” is a word that has a double meaning. First, it does mean a physically “lifting up”. Just as Moses hoisted the image of a serpent as the means for the healing of the people so will Jesus be physically hoisted upon the wood of the cross for the healing of the world. The Christian God is a God of paradox – and eternal and immutable God who was born, who suffered and who died. If we are to be Christian then we must enter into this paradox and learn what it both teaches about God and also about ourselves and where true life is found and lived.
The Greek word for “lifted up” also means “exaltation”. For the Christian to be authentic in his or her life that means that Christ/God must be exalted. Simply put, Christ/God must be the center of the Christian’s life and anything or anyone else that would vie with God for this center must be put in their proper place.
Our lives must be centered on God. If this is done then everything we do and all we are derive from God. We will be moral, honest and honorable. We will seek to tell the truth and not distort the news. We will not spread falsehoods. We will not gossip. We will pursue righteousness, devotion, love, faith, patience and gentleness. God must be exalted in the life of every Christian and this means that God alone is the center.
We can all be like Nicodemus. Attracted to the light of Christ yet still clinging to the darkness of our own presumptions. Jesus’ invitation to Nicodemus is his invitation to us. Take that step in faith – the mystery of a God who suffered and was lifted up on a cross and a God who must be exalted in our lives.