James: Hey, guys, better get to sleep early, ’cuz tomorrow you’ve got to rise at dawn!
Peter: Oh, my feet! Long journeys like this are never my cup of tea!
Mary: Why don’t you stay a couple of days more? There’s room in the inn, especially now that people are beginning to return to their towns.
Peter: No, Mary, we’ve got to go back to Galilee. D’ya know why? Because we’ve already run out of money. We haven’t even got a copper coin.
Mary: Bah, that’s no problem. My brother Lazarus has grown fond of you. If you can’t pay now, you can do so later, on your next trip here. You’re coming back, aren’t you?
We were gathering the trinkets and things we bought during the feast of the Passover in Jerusalem while saying goodbye to Martha and Mary. It was already night when Lazarus, the innkeeper, came back, running….
Lazarus: Pshh! Is anyone of you carrying hot items back north?
Peter: Hot items? Are you crazy? They’re very strict in the customs nowadays. Why do you ask?
Lazarus: Because you’ve got a visitor. A bigwig. One of the seventy magistrates from Sanhedrin… He’s there outside, with a couple of bodyguards, and he’s asking about you. I thought you were carrying smuggled goods.
Mary: If they do, then they conceal them very well. They’re not Galileans for nothing!
Lazarus: Go upstairs, guys, somebody’s got to go and face them…!
James: Then I’ll go and ask them. Will you come with me, John?
My brother James and I went to see who was looking for us. There at the door of the Beautiful Palm was a tall man, with a long white beard, waiting for us. He was wrapped in an elegant purple cloak, and was accompanied by two Ethiopians with shaven heads and daggers at the waist.
James: Let’s see now, what can we do for you, Sir?
Nicodemus: I’d like to speak with your leader.
James: With our leader? Here no one is a leader of anyone. We’re a group of friends…
Nicodemus: I’m referring to this guy named Jesus of Nazareth. The man who accomplishes “things.”
James: What “things?” Please make yourself clear.
Nicodemus: I came not to talk to you but him. Please call him.
James and I went back to the inn….
Jesus: He wants to speak with me? What does he want?
James: I don’t like the looks of him. He’s an important Pharisee, you know. It’s rather strange that he should come here at this time… There must be something else….
Mary: Don’t be long, Jesus. You haven’t finished your story yet…..!
Jesus went out to the garden where the mysterious visitor was waiting for him…..
Nicodemus: Damn, finally I find you, Nazarene! I’d like to have a word with you, alone…
Jesus: That’s alright. If you’re looking for hot items, then you’re wasting your time. The only thing I’m taking from Jerusalem is a hanky for my mom, because here they’re very cheap.
Nicodemus: No, nothing of that sort, young man. Let me explain. Hey, you two, wait for me over there…
The two Ethiopians distanced themselves about a stone’s throw…
Nicodemus: There must be some place here where we can talk…
Jesus: We’ll be fine under that palm tree. Let’s go!
From the kitchen stove, we saw Jesus heading for a corner of the garden. The clouds moved swiftly in the sky, pushed by the night winds moaning amid the trees…
Jesus: What is it?…
Nicodemus: My name is Nicodemus, Jesus. I’m a magistrate in the Supreme Court of Justice. My father was the illustrious Jechonias, the senior treasurer of the temple.
Jesus: What does an important man like you want from me?
Nicodemus: I know you’re quite puzzled by my visit, although you already have an idea as to why I’m here.
Jesus: I must have very little imagination, because, frankly speaking, I have no idea what you want from me.
Nicodemus: I don’t need anything from you. As a matter of fact, I’m here to help you.
Jesus: To help me?
Nicodemus: Let’s say it will be a mutual cooperation. A mutual benefit, do you understand?
Jesus: I don’t get it. Please make yourself clear.
Nicodemus: Jesus, I know a lot about you… Look, what you did in the Bethesda pool has already spread throughout the city… Yeah… C’mon, don’t put on that face. I’ve heard about the paralytic you made to walk, just like that… I have also heard about similar things that happened in Galilee: a madman, a leper…. they even say that you brought a dead girl back to life at the height of the wake. These rumors have gone as far as the Sanhedrin…
Jesus: Uff, how fast news spreads in this country, huh?
Nicodemus: As you can see, I have been following you. And I congratulate you, Jesus.
Jesus: I still don’t understand where you came from and what you want from me….
Nicodemus: Oh, c’mon, don’t deny it. Tricks must be performed well, for them to become tricks, I know that… Don’t tell me those were miracles… you don’t have the face of a saint… That’s okay, that’s okay. You don’t trust me, I understand. But let’s get to the point. After all, I don’t really mind whether they are tricks of yours or God’s miracles… or if it’s the devil who’s behind all this… It doesn’t really matter. The people can’t distinguish one from the other. They have been suffering enough and they need something to entertain them. You’re a master in amusing the people… In other words, I have a business proposition, Jesus of Nazareth. We can be partners and we share the profit equally… Or if you want, I can give you a fixed rate, say for example… 50 dinars. Is it too small?… Yeah, I know, but…. how about 75…. Some more?… I think that’s too much for a peasant, since after all, you’ll just spend the money drinking in the pubs. Anyway, I have found you to be a nice guy, I can raise it to l00 dinars… and the deal is closed. Now, let me explain what I want you to do…. Hey, what are you laughing at?
Jesus: Nothing. I just find it funny…
Nicodemus: Yeah, I know. You Galileans are known for your cunning. Fine. I think l00 dinars is a salary good enough for a magician… but, that’s okay, name your price. How much do you want?… Believe me, man, more than anyone else, I’m very much interested in your craft.
Jesus: Yeah, I see that, but… I don’t think I’m the right man for you, Nicodemus….
Nicodemus: How’s that?….. Why? I can give much money, you know that, and I mean it.
Jesus: No, it’s not that.
Nicodemus: Then, why?
Jesus: Well, it’s because… you’re very old.
Nicodemus: That’s it, precisely, young man. They say that the devil is wise because he’s old, and not because he’s the devil. With my experience and with your ability, we can go very far.
Jesus: No, Nicodemus. I must tell you that I need young blood.
Nicodemus: Well, I may be old, and that’s true, but… my health isn’t that bad. I’m still quite strong….
Jesus: Nicodemus: I need children.
Nicodemus: Children? C’mon, Jesus, leave the children alone in school and let’s talk about serious things.
Jesus: I’m serious, Nicodemus. I need children. If you want to get involved in this matter, then, you would have to… to be born again. That’s right, be a child again…
Nicodemus: They told me you joke a lot, Nazarene. Well, since you know a lot of tricks, maybe you can put me back in my mother’s womb, that I may be born again… Anyway, let’s get back to our deal. As I was saying, this has something to do…..
Jesus: You’ve gotten old amassing a lot of wealth, Nicodemus. Your heart has grown calloused and you’ve become hard of hearing. That’s why you don’t understand. That’s why you don’t hear the wind blowing.
Nicodemus: Hey, I may be old but I’m not deaf. Of course I hear the wind. But I don’t understand a word of yours. What are you trying to tell me?… Aren’t you interested in making money?… Is that it?… Oh, you young people are hopeless cases… You sing the same tune. Of course, money becomes the least of your worries, after all: “Daddy is just behind us!” …Then, when the fruit becomes ripe, you realize that with money, you can buy almost anything in this life… However, if you are not ambitious at all, then, I’ll keep my money. That’ll be the worse for you.
Jesus: No, don’t keep your money. I didn’t tell you to.
Nicodemus: Ah, you smart guy, I knew you would take in the hook. I knew you would be interested in my proposition… Look, we could start with a presentation in a theater… or in the hippodrome, where we can take in more people… or… well, what’s the matter with you? …Are you shocked, or something?
Jesus: Nicodemus, don’t you hear the wind?… It brings in the moanings of the suffering people, those who die calling the Lord for justice to prevail on earth. How can you keep your money and be so deaf to the wailings of the wind?…. Listen… It’s like a woman crying while giving birth… She’s bringing to light a new human, one who lives not for money but for others, because he or she would rather give than receive.
Nicodemus: Now I don’t understand a thing you said.
Jesus: Of course, because if you want to understand, then you’ll have to choose.
Nicodemus: Choose what?
Jesus: You can’t serve two masters at the same time. Choose between God and money. If you choose God, you will hear the wailing of the wind and it will bring you some place that you haven’t imagined in your whole life. If you stick to your money, you’ll be all alone by yourself.
Nicodemus: Really, I don’t understand a thing you’re saying.
Jesus: You ought to know. You’re a learned man, with so many titles to boast of, can’t you understand what’s going on? The people are claiming their right. We want to be free like the wind. We want to be happy. We want to live.
Nicodemus: Jesus of Nazareth, now I know what you are: a dreamer! But this world you’re dreaming of will never come!
Jesus: It has already come, Nicodemus. God so loves the world that he has already done it. The Kingdom of God has already begun!
Nicodemus: Get down from your pedestal, young man, and be more realistic… Take this advice from an old man. In the first place think of yourself, and in the second place, too. Then, think of the deluge to come. Things are as they are and they will always be so.
Jesus: No, Nicodemus. Things can change, in fact, they are already changing. In Galilee, we have seen very poor people sharing what little they have with others. You wanted to see miracles, didn’t you? Well, get down from your master’s chair and go to our barrio. I assure you, Nicodemus, you’ll learn how to make the greatest miracle of all, that of sharing what one has.
Nicodemus: Of course, you’re a crazy man. There’s no doubt about it. But knowing you speak….
Jesus: Look up, Nicodemus… don’t you see it?
The full moon of the month of Nisan was as round as a coin, and spread its immaculately white light over the garden of the inn…
Jesus: Look at it… it’s as bright as your money. But, do you know what Moses did in the desert? He took the bronze coins and created a serpent to stand in the middle of the camping site. Those who looked at the serpent were cured from the snake bites… The snake from the money has bitten you, Nicodemus, and you’ve got the poison inside you…. If you want to be cured…
Nicodemus remained silent, as he stared at the moon… The handful of coins he had in his pocket became as heavy as a bundle. He felt he was older and wearier than before, as if his life had not been more than water flowing through his hands…
Nicodemus: Do you think there’s still… hope… for old men like me?
Jesus: Of course, there is. Water cleanses and the spirit is renewed… if you wish…
The wind continued to blow among the trees. It came from very far, dragging along the words of Jesus coming from afar, toward the far away mountains. When Nicodemus left the inn on his way to Jerusalem, the wind kept him company on his return journey.
Nicodemus’ name is mentioned only in the gospel of John. He is one of the few persons belonging to the religious institution who maintained a friendly relationship with Jesus. He was a Pharisee of the Sanhedrin group. The Sanhedrin was the supreme council of the Jewish government. It also functioned as a court of justice composed of seventy members who were profoundly knowledgeable of the Scriptures, in order for them to be able to pass judgment. Specifically, the Sanhedrin members of the Pharisee’s party – like Nicodemus – had occupied the administrative positions of the council and they wielded great influence. The Sanhedrin members were highly privileged persons in society: Masters of knowledge and all power which gave them the authority to interpret the laws. Besides, they were generally rich. In the gospel of John, reference to the “chiefs of the Jews” pointed to men occupying religious-political posts of this type. A well-placed man like Nicodemus would have had vague intentions in approaching Jesus. In this episode, he appears interested in “lucrative” business. He wants to capitalize on the religious for his own benefit. Among the members of the Sanhedrin, such an attitude ought not to be thought of as unusual. In Jesus’ time, the Sanhedrin was a body with corrupt political, social and economic power. To a man with this type of orientation, Jesus offers a basic alternative on the true religious attitude: God or money. To choose God is to be converted to the Kingdom. To go for the money is to be excluded from God’s plan.
In the dialogue between Jesus and this influential Pharisee, as told in the fourth gospel, John employs a series of theological themes: the water and the Spirit; what comes from above and what is of the earth; light and darkness… He likewise makes use of symbols: Moses’ serpent, the wind… This tells us that he does not confine himself solely to a real conversation, since such would be improbable. Rather, he deals with a theological explanation. Jesus speaks of freedom (the wind blowing where it will) to this man dominated by the law and he brings up the possibility of being born again, of starting a new life of conversion.
The idea of “a new person” as expounded in this chapter is basic in understanding the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. This, in the end, is what the whole conversion is about: The transformation toward life, toward what is new, toward the future. The new human that Jesus proposes to Nicodemus in this account is one whose attitude of sharing gets first priority over personal benefit. He is a person for others vis-à-vis the individual. This is difficult, as it demands a youthfulness of heart. The theme of the new human is frequently found in the letters of Paul (Col 3:9-11; Eph 8:2-10 and 4:20-24).
The consequences of Christian baptism have been traditionally expressed in the manner by which Jesus dealt with Nicodemus: to be born again by water and Spirit. Water, which is the symbol of life, and Spirit (in Hebrew, spirit and wind are expressed by the same word: “ruah”), the symbol of freedom, are the marks of a Christian. A Christian must be that new person who will always choose life and defend freedom before any form of servitude. Baptism makes possible this new human whose disposition will be to choose the God of life in all commitments and all actions.