Friday, November 15, 2013

Luigi Santucci on Nicodemus

Here is Luigi Santucci's meditation on Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night (From Wrestling with Christ, pages 125-127)


Among the Pharisees there was a man called Nicodemus who was one of the leading Jews. He went to Jesus in the night and said . . .

This is me. Among all the characters on the stage of the Gospels, I’m probably this one (even if I often see myself in the publican, the prostitute, the leper): Dr Nicodemus, the petulant intellectual, the one who ‘Went to Jesus in the night and said . . .’

I would have gone by night; and often. On those occasions when I cannot manage to sleep because I’m horrified by the day I’ve just spent, and afraid of the one that’s dawning; when my brain, and the academic knowledge handed to me by my father and mother who paid for my good education, weigh on my mind more than any sin - then I get up and go to him. I don’t even need to get up. I lie there in the darkness, my eyes open, and pester him. It isn’t praying; it’s provoking him; and secretly I hope to tangle him up and topple him over into my own superstitious atheist’s drama; and at the same time it’s an appeal for the answer that will bring me peace, an entreaty that he’ll get down to the blackboard, cover it with solid round figures, and prove to me there’s a God, that he’s the son of the Father, and that after a long and happy life I’ll go to heaven. It’s a demand that he should put the seal of metaphysical certainty on the tortuous pyramid of my culture.

It’s night. No one sees us or hears us. So, with an open mind, and in a gentlemanly way, perhaps I may wring this privilege from him and have him explain a bit . . . If the right atmosphere can be achieved, the magic connivance favoured by the hour  and the tête-à-tête conversation. Basically we are sort of colleagues: docti sumus.

Nicodemus wanted a private lesson; and that’s just what I want. An encounter of two pairs of eyes. Not that crush among the hunchbacked fishermen and prostitutes in the Capernaum slums, or beside the lake, or in the desert where you spent three days without a meal surrounded by people with bleeding feet; nor that scramble up a tree like Zacchaeus so as to see and hear him; nor, worse, being mixed up with his followers when they killed him, with the risk of . . .

So Nicodemus went to see Jesus and Jesus received him. And I’m going too and he opens the door for me too and asks me to sit down. ‘How on earth? the Jewish doctor says to him, and ‘How on earth?’ say I too. ‘The truth I’m telling you is that anyone who isn’t born again by water and the Holy Spirit can’t enter God’s kingdom . . .’ ‘Don’t be amazed at me saying, “You’ve got to he born again”. The wind blows wherever it likes, you hear its voice but you don’t know where it’s coming from or going to.’

‘How’s that possible?’ Nicodemus and I mumble. Now he’s very polite about my scholastic position and says, ‘You’re a master in Israel, and you don’t know that? Nicodemus and I, trying to swallow his irony, say ‘Forget it . . . Tell us once and for all, how on earth . . . ?’

Big clocks, small clocks, watches chop up the hours of the night (apparently equal to those of the day and yet so different) with their tick, tock, tick, tock, within the house which, with its bricks and furniture, is suffering like us from the anguish of existing and not knowing why.

‘If you don’t believe when I talk to you about things on earth, how can you believe when I talk to you of heavenly matters?’ says Jesus from the old armchair in my study, crossing his arms. This time too, he’s escaping me. And he’s being the questioner. ‘Leave aside those distinctions between earthly and heavenly things,’ say I, ‘and talk to me of myself who don’t know what heaven and earth are, and basically couldn’t care less. I’m just frightened, hugely and continuously frightened of dying.’ 


‘What do you mean – indeed?’

‘Indeed God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believed in him wouldn’t die but would have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world by his work.’

I get up. It’s just as before. I can’t remember whose house it is, whether he’s come to mine or I’ve gone to knock at his. It’s all the same anyway. What’s certain is that it was night when we talked; that, like Nicodemus, I tried to catch him out for the nth time; that I’m leaving the house Where I paid my useless visit; and that I’m in the darkness of a country road. And in spite of everything I’m feeling better. I’m even happy; humiliated, but happy. That may be because dawn’s coming up, and the darkness - at least the external darkness - is thinning. And I’m thinking of his parting words:

‘The light came into the world and people preferred darkness to light because their works were wicked. The truth is that whoever does evil loathes the light and keeps away from it so that the things he’s doing won’t be condemned. But whoever does good goes to the light because the things he does are open and as if fulfilled by God.’

So perhaps I’m not entirely wicked. I love the dawn and I still find consolation, even after my heavy defeat and with the salty taste in my mouth of someone who hasn’t slept a wink. I’m only Nicodemus.


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