We first meet Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel. He seeks Jesus under the cover of night in order to learn from him, which—on the surface—seems an admirable deed. A leader of the Jews, Nicodemus goes to Jesus at great personal risk. But his initial foray into discipleship is superficial, and John makes no room for halfhearted discipleship. Nicodemus, it seems, is among those John condemns at the end of chapter 3 when he writes, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Nicodemus seeks the light. But he cannot bring himself to abandon the dark.
As the Gospel account proceeds, Nicodemus gains confidence. In chapter 7, he makes his second appearance, tepidly defending Jesus in the open. As the Temple authorities debate the best way to deal with Jesus, Nicodemus asks, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (v. 51). It’s hardly an open proclamation of fidelity to Jesus. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Nicodemus secures his attachment to Jesus following the crucifixion. Today’s reading shows Nicodemus bringing what amounts to one hundred pounds of ointment to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Recalling Mary’s anointing of Jesus, Nicodemus’s excessive attention to Jesus’ body bears witness to his irrepressible love for the man. By the end, Nicodemus has come full circle. His story attests to the later Johannine proclamation that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
That, for me, points to the invitation of Holy Saturday. The world is dark, and there is much to fear. God incarnate lies dead in the tomb. Have we the courage to love as Jesus loved?
O God, when the dark world beckons, call to us so that we might walk forth toward the light. Amen.