Monday over Coffee

Agility

There are definitely two camps on this: Some parents like to know the gender of their baby beforehand, some don’t. My wife, Kelly, and I fell into the latter category, but at a prenatal appointment—while scoping out the monitor—our sonogram technician made a comment. “Pretty as a peach,” she said.

 

Based only on that remark, we soon purchased an ornate crib, painted the baby’s room in a color that reflected our expectation, and picked out a name—Susan Patricia—after our mothers. We were going to call her Trish. By the time we checked into the hospital, the belief we were having a girl had settled in as gospel truth. But at the moment of delivery, before the doctor was able to make any sort of announcement—before Kelly could even lay her eyes on Baby Trish—everyone in the delivery room heard me exclaim, “It’s a boy!” Kelly responded incredulously, “No, it’s not.” The doctor, though, helpfully seconded my opinion and gave Kelly our new baby boy, soon to be named Hank. 

    

Once our minds settle on something as being true, it’s really difficult for us to consider that we could be wrong. We simply fail to imagine it. However, if we’re to see the world clearly, perhaps we ought to maintain a certain agility of mind, asking God to gently show us our blind spots as we continue questioning our prior assumptions about our faith and the world. 

 

Scripture has some great examples of people who were able to do this—to change their minds. My favorite one is introduced to us in John’s Gospel like this:

There was once a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council who came to see Jesus at night. 

 

Right off, the story begs a major question—why would a leading rabbi feel obliged to wait until dark to visit Jesus? Well, imagine Nicodemus’s backstory. It probably went something like this: There was once a young Jewish boy, a student so exceptional that the most respected rabbi in town took him under his wing. The lad advanced quickly, surpassing even his teachers in ability, memorizing not only the Torah, but the oral tradition—the thousands of laws, statutes, and interpretations that had emerged over the centuries within the Jewish faith. The young man soon comes of age, and takes a sacred oath promising not only to obey all of them, but to uphold them in his community.

 

For decades, he’s sat with other teachers in the synagogues, interpreting for his flock how the law should be applied in disputed situations. Next, he takes on students of his own. He’s soon elevated to the Sanhedrin, a supreme court which holds jurisdiction over everyone in the faith—overseeing its law, protecting its culture, its traditions. He’s now become one of the most respected men in all of Jerusalem—one of the most sought-after minds in the country.

    

Think about it. Can you conceive of someone with more to lose if the system in which he’s risen is toppled? Can we conceive of anyone who’d be more likely to hold on stubbornly to his own way of thinking, fall into the trap of motivated reasoning, and get stuck in the echo chamber of confirmation bias? From where Nicodemus sat, it was implausible that the ancient prophets could possibly be describing a 30-year-old carpenter from Galilee who lived down the street, consorting with sinners and turning water into wine at local weddings. 

 

Nicodemus must’ve struggled with how visiting Jesus might seem disloyal to his tradition, his students, his brethren, and the memory of his own teachers. He must have wrestled with the sense that he might be toying with heresy, flirting with switching sides, admitting he was wrong about some things, or even acknowledging hypocrisy. 

 

On the Gospel stage only briefly, Nicodemus gets just a few lines. But following Christ’s crucifixion, along with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus brings a mixture of myrrh and aloe, about 70 pounds of it (the equivalent of $150,000-$200,000), takes Jesus’ body, and wraps it in strips of linen with the spices in accordance with Jewish burial customs. It was Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin who took the body from the cross and prepared the carpenter’s son for burial as if He were a king. Why? Because he had concluded that He was one. 

    

What if, like Nicodemus, we began to look to our faith not always to reinforce what we think we’re right about, but rather to instruct us on what we might be wrong about.

 

God—May I take from the story of Nicodemus the idea that You’re always doing something new in the world. Grant me some agility to keep up. 

Amen.


—Greg Funderburk