“The imagination is more active in the dark than in the light of day.” ~ Immanuel Kant
When we were young, we were afraid of the dark because we couldn’t distinguish the things around us. In the silence of the night, every sound seems louder. In the dark, it’s not unusual to feel like a threat could come from anywhere. And when we finally turn on the light, any feeling of fear we could have had abandons us.
It’s probably the same fear that comes to us from long ago, from when we were children and we felt abandoned to the darkness of the night. We felt defenseless before a world we did not know. In the same way, now grown, that fear returns on occasion: when we can’t see the way things are in life, when night falls on our hearts. Every sound, every incident, seems bigger in these situations too. Their importance is magnified. We feel threatened and as if all our securities have fallen away.
The antidote to fear is to look what frightens us in the face. Precisely because darkness magnifies things into fantastical objects, we must seek the courage to look directly at them so we can verify their true dimensions, just like the Israel does in the desert (Nm. 21:6). The people were so tired and inconstant that they began to fall into darkness, focusing on their fears: the fear of not being able to walk any further, the fear of not finding food, the fear of dying of thirst. The Israelites were so obsessed with these fears that took the physical form of venomous serpents.
When we focus our lives on our fears, sooner or later we will find something that justifies our dreadful expectations. Just as for the people of Israel, our fears are deadly: he who was bitten by one of the serpents died. Because fear injects its venom into our lives.
In order to drive away the serpents, we must stare them down: God orders Moses to forge a bronze serpent and to set it on a staff so that, those who had been bitten, would look at the image which represented the evil that had struck them down. Often, only by opening our eyes and looking at what is doing us harm, can we find the strength of healing.
Nicodemus is also frightened by what is going on, not only around him, but also within him. He seeks Jesus by night because he seeks the light. He is the little boy that finds the courage to climb out of bed to go look for help, to look for reassurance.
Perhaps Nicodemus is frightened by his own position: he is a Pharisee, probably stuck in his way of thinking. He must protect his image. And perhaps Jesus’ words have thrown him into crisis. Perhaps he is afraid of losing his securities and feels the weight of his image and his role that he hopes to defend, but perhaps he also fears life without these masks.
Nicodemus is the kind of person that always rereads things from his own perspective. He’s unable to see things from the perspectives of others. He does not understand the meaning of Jesus’ words because he is unable to let go of the meanings he has always given to the things.
The path of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John is a path of liberation from a rigid image of himself. We will find him again at the end of the Gospel among those who take the Jesus’ body after His death (Jn. 19:39). Nicodemus no longer needs to hide himself.
The journey of Nicodemus is every man’s journey: we all experience nights in which the shadows take on strange and menacing shapes. We all fear losing our securities, abandoning our own point of view, and the certainties that we have built for ourselves. But once in a while reality knocks on our door and we are thrown into crisis. Nicodemus does not attempt to overcome his fears on his own; he seeks the light. He falls in behind that light and walks.
As the Israelites had to look upon the bronze serpent lifted up on Moses’ staff, so Nicodemus must look upon the cross that terrifies him so that he could learn that he would not have to be lifted up upon it himself, but that Jesus had taken his place.
The Cross is everything that we fear. It is death, judgment, abandonment and desolation. Jesus tells us that we must look upon it so that we can discover that He has taken our place there. And only in this way, only by looking upon the Cross, can we be healed.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
The Gospel of the Lord
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