Beyond the Bars

I nervously pace around the court of the Priests, paying little attention to the discussion around me. Joseph, the Arimathean, glances up and pats the empty space next to him. As I slide in beside him, he whispers, “Do not concern yourself, Nicodemus. The guards were merely sent to question the Rabbi, nothing more.”

His words are kind, but untrue. The chief priests have been lying in wait for the one known as Jesus, hoping he would appear at the Feast of Tabernacles. They have had guards posted on the temple steps watching for him.

On the first days of the feast, my relief was great, for there was no sign of him. Yet, on the fourth day, the stir of the crowd warned me of his arrival. I even glimpsed him myself this morning; he caught my gaze and smiled. I was bitterly disappointed. Why did he value his life so little to risk teaching in Jerusalem? Why couldn’t he just stay in Galilee?

A commotion at the gate draws my attention. The Guards are back. I almost let out a whoop of joy when I see they are alone.

“Why didn’t you bring him in?” The chief priest’s face is swollen with rage.

The most senior guard shakes his head, his voice slightly dazed as he says, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

His answer causes an angry ripple of protest to spread amongst my companions. I remain silent, for I know he speaks the truth. I know because I clearly remember the first night I met the Rabbi.

At another time…another feast.

The night was cool, and the moon bright, as I knocked on the door the big disciple had pointed to earlier. I could hear the loud talking and laughter from inside. Rather unbecoming for a Rabbi of any standing, I thought. However, it died as soon as the door opened and I stepped into the room.

The Rabbi sat cross-legged on a cushion. Around him sat a strange assortment of people. Some were the men that had accompanied him to the Passover Feast—fishermen, I had heard. Others were people I would not have expected in the company of a Rabbi. I recognised at least one tax collector and a beggar, whose full attention was on the large chunk of bread in his hand. Yet, it was the sight of the women that almost made me leave. If I so much as grazed their arm, I could be ceremonially unclean.

“Welcome Brother.” The Rabbi’s voice drew my gaze. His eyes were looking at me with unusual intensity. I felt exposed under his scrutiny and suddenly remembered the scathing words this man had spoken about Pharisees. Coming here had been a terrible mistake.

Yet, his followers were clearing the place of honour for me, and so I reluctantly sat down on his right, struck again at just how young this Rabbi was. He waited expectantly—all of them did—for me to speak.

I cleared my throat. How could I put my confusion into words? I had heard—and recently seen—what this Rabbi was doing. This was the reason I could not agree with my companions who said he was a charlatan and troublemaker. And yet…

“Rabbi,” I finally started, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Who are you? Is what I really wanted to shout aloud.

His words, far from giving answers, merely raised more questions.

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” He delivered the absurd statement with a glint of a challenge in his eyes, emboldening me to question him further.

“How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.”

“I tell you the truth, “Jesus asserted again as if he alone knew the meaning of the word, “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

He spoke many words that night and I sat by his side long after the others had drifted out of the door, or curled up to sleep against the wall. My whole life I had learnt to value reasoning and understanding. I had dissected arguments with my mind and words, I could recite prophets and poets alike.

Yet, Jesus’ words were different. I could not always grasp them with my mind. They called to a deeper part of me, a part that longed to be awakened. They exposed the cage around my heart, its bars constructed of countless laws and theories on God. They whispered of a freedom that let you eat and laugh with sinners and women alike.

Yes. The guard is right. No one ever spoke the way this man does.

The turmoil in the temple dies down as the High Priest attacks the guard. “You mean he has deceived you also? Have any of the rulers of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

One final memory surfaces, of that first night. The Rabbi had leaned forward and grasped my arm, his eyes entreating me to hear his weighty words. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I may not have believed it that night, or even the many nights that followed. Yet, at the High Priest’s jarring accusation, I know that I believe in him now. It is time to step out of the night’s shadows.

I rise to my feet. The voices still as every eye turns to me.

“You have something to add, Nicodemus?” The High Priest sounds surprised.

“Indeed.” I pause, preparing for the onslaught that I know will follow my words. “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

The lash of their words is strangely muted in my ears. For I am conscious only of the quiet, joy-filled breath of wind blowing through my heart.

 

The account of Nicodemus questioning Jesus  at night, is found in John 3:1-21

Nicodemus’ defense of Jesus during the Feast of Tabernacles is found in John 7:45-52

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8 Comments

  1. Joan, really loved it! Well done….I could easily picture the scene. Please write more?

    • Joan Campbell

      Thanks Adi! I love writing these and am trying to write enough to put together a collection in a book. There are quite a few under the “Devotional” tag in the Blog menu.

  2. Carrol Evans

    Thank you Joan! You make the Scripture alive and give a freshness to words and situations that we are so familiar with. I always feel a “happy heart” moment when I see your email – and you never fail to deliver – bless you.

  3. Yes Joan, you have a gift. I can picture the scene – almost as though I am there. The passages from the Bible come alive. Thank you for sharing your insights with us. We are blessed x

  4. You really make it come alive, thank you!

  5. Goosebump stuff as always 🙂

  6. Perfect title for this evocative piece.

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