Nicodemus by night

Lent 2 (year A)

Nicodemus comes by night to talk with Jesus.

In this Pieta by Michelangelo, Nicodemus rather than Mary cradles the body of Jesus. c.1550

In his encounters with people, Jesus finds the weak spot as the locus of transformation. For Paul it is the mysterious “thorn” in his side. Paul begs God to remove it, but hears instead, “my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in (your) weakness.” For Peter, it is his three-fold denial. After the Resurrection, Jesus will ask three times, “Do you love me?”

For Nicodemus, it is his knowledge. “How can?” “But?” Jesus meets the pharisee’s literal-mindedness with a frustratingly wild metaphor.  “The wind blows where it wills, you hear the sound of it but you do not know from where it comes or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Jesus confronts Nicodemus’ knowing with the essential necessity of unknowing. God can be loved, but not thought, says the author of the Cloud.* By love God “can be grasped and held, but by thought neither grasped or held.”

I love Nicodemus, I suppose, because my own intellectual struggles eventually exhausted themselves into the dark love of unknowing.


*The Cloud of Unknowing
14th Century, English

Moses enters the cloud when the human spirit, overtaken by the immensity of the divine light, becomes wholly passive in a profound forgetfulness of self…One and the same cloud has overshadowed it by its brightness and enlightened it by its darkness that is, filled it with light to see divine things and brought the human into the shade.

-Richard of St. Victor

3 Responses to “Nicodemus by night”

  1. Tony Burkart Says:

    This latest blog is a wonderful comment on Nicodemus, vulnerability and the limits of the intellect…Was your exhaustion with the intellect a decision or a process or a mix amidst pure mystery?…I teach transformative process in various graduate programs so my question is not one of intrusive curiosity or detached academics. The eventual bankruptcy of the intellect, with its many advances and regressions, has been my story as well although with each of us, experienced in a personal framing of our own life and circumstance…….Love to hear something of your story if that ever became possible.

    Blessings, Tony Burkart, Maine

  2. claire Says:

    I love Nicodemus, I suppose, because my own intellectual struggles eventually exhausted themselves into the dark love of unknowing.
    Ah, Amma Guthrie, these words bring tears to my eyes.
    Thank you.


  3. Pat McKenzie Says:

    So well spoken, thank you. You remind me of one of my favorite Taize chants

    By night, we hasten in darkness, to search for the living water
    Only our thirst leads us onward, only our thirst leads us onward

    When I heard this Gospel as a child, I remember feeling superior to Nicodemus – in my simplicity I just wanted to be with Jesus why ask these meaningless questions. Now I am grateful for his …searching!

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