A way of being friends

When you think about Nicodemus and read John 3, it’s easy to get stuck on the rabbi Nicodemus’ need to keep his discipleship quiet. Lots of commentators weave some solid and insightful commentaries on it. Some of them add it was Nicodemus who suggested that the Sanhedrin might give Jesus a formal trial before they condemn him. Took courage to say that out loud.

But not a lot of them add that it was also Nicodemus who brought to the first washing and anointing of Jesus’ dead body enough precious ointment to anoint the bodies of the whole apostolic college. One translation makes it “one hundred pounds,” which seems to me enthusiastic – how could he carry it? But the bigger point is that this man loved Jesus so much that he brought what was an extravagant amount of ointment to smooth on His ruined body. 

By now, it’s obvious that between the speculation on what Nicodemus and Jesus fenced over and the dense theology we have forgotten the central point.Jesus so respected Nicodemus’ assessment of his own needs as to serve the rabbi Nicodemus in the way the rabbi wanted. I’ve never thought of Jesus as a “night person” – but in fact, He seems to have spent many Jerusalem nights over in the Garden of Olives praying.

And He did what another wanted. Was Nicodemus already a friend? Then, He did what a friend wanted. Was Nicodemus just possibly a friend? Then Jesus showed him how true friends act.

In any case, I’d bet that the one night recorded in the Gospel of John was not the only night they spent together. And I’d bet that their nights grew less and less argumentative. And by the end, Nicodemus would want to spread the oil on his friend with his own hands.

When we set aside the theology woven into the story, we discover a way of being friends is what it’s about.