The night was cool as the old man walked through the streets. With one hand he leaned on his staff and with the other he held his cloak close. He realized he had been muttering to himself. He shook his head and thought himself an old fool.
He had always felt something like a fraud. The others seemed so sure of themselves, so sure they were right, so sure they knew the answers. He shook his head again and leaned harder on his staff. His knee was aching. He knew his wife would be worried, so he pressed on to his door.
She was waiting for him, and anxiously searched his eyes were hers.
He felt bad for worrying her.
49 years they had been together. He knew he could hide nothing so he turned away and leaned his staff beside the door. He limped over to his seat and sat down. She had kept the small fire lit.
She brought him a cup of soup. “You have been to see the Nazarene again?”
He cupped his hands around the steaming bowl, and nodded.
She placed her open hand on his cheek and shook her head. Her voice was gentle.“Oh my husband”.
Afterwards his sleep was troubled. He kept hearing the words the Nazarene had spoken to him. He had not slept long when his wife got up and dressed herself in the gray light. He sat up too and remembered the words of Jeremiah: “His mercies are new every morning”. He knew that much was true and put his feet on the floor. He felt better. The morning light always seemed to brighten up the troubles of yesterday.
At breakfast he told her he planned to go and mentor some of the younger men until midday, and then come early to rest. He knew that part would make her happy, and it did.
Afterwards he bundled up his parchments and found her cleaning up from their meal. He lay the scrolls down on the table, and came up close behind her. He drew her to himself, breathing in her the scent of her hair.
He pulled her tighter and said, “I may be an old man but my heart feels young with you”.
She leaned back into him and said “I worry about you.”
He laughed and that made her smile. He kissed her cheek and walked out. His heart was much lighter now. The bright morning and the comfort of his wife were enough. So was the thought of coming home early.
He made his way towards the temple. When he got closer he saw a crowd gathered outside and some of the other Pharisees in the center of the crowd. When people saw him they let him pass through. As he made his way into the crowd his friend Joseph saw him and joined him.
Joseph took his old friend’s arm to steady him as they pressed through the crowd. As they did he could hear the Nazarene’s voice.
He was teaching again on the steps. The Pharisees surrounded him. The old man thought they looked like like a pack of wolves. The voice he heard was not afraid.
“…And the Father who sent me has has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one He sent.”
Nicodemus watched the expressions on the faces around him. The common people were enjoying this, but the faces of the Pharisees were mostly those of hatred. Standing now in their midst he saw a few that looked uncertain, but mostly he saw rage. It frightened him. He looked at Joseph. He was frightened too.
Jesus continued “You Pharisees study the Scriptures diligently because you think that by them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
The sounds coming from the Pharisees were low, ugly. Joseph was ashamed to be in their midst.
Nicodemus listened to the words of Jesus and felt very unsteady. Joseph felt him sway a little and held his arm tighter.
Joseph looked at his old teacher. “I think I should take you home rabbi. Come”
The old man began to feel a little better as they got away from the crowd. He was grateful for Joseph. He took his friend’s hand.
“Joseph. Have I not warned you about calling me rabbi? You yourself are a rabbi to so many.” He looked at his friend and smiled. “Sometimes you are a rabbi to me! Surely by now you have learned the teacher learns from his student as well!”
He watched Joseph laugh. The son he’d never had. Nicodemus loved him very much. He noticed the gray beginning to streak Joseph’s beard, and knew his friend was getting older too. Joseph had been his favorite student and now he was mentoring many younger men in the Law.
They walked in silence. Finally, at the door of his friend’s house, Joseph’s spoke, “No man ever spoke like this man.”
Nicodemus knew it was a question. He turned around. He wanted to tell him about the visit he made the night before, and the words Jesus had spoken to him.
He searched his friends face for a moment.
“No. No one ever spoke like this man.” He looked down and shook his head. “And the miracles…” His voice trailed off. He grasped Joseph’s hands, turned, and went in to his house.
The Burning Bush
That evening he took out his scroll and read about Moses turning aside to see the bush that was on fire but did not burn up. He sat for a long time gazing at their small fire, remembering. He looked up and saw that his wife had been watching him. He sighed and smiled at her. He looked back at the fire. He knew she was waiting on him to say something.
He looked back at her. “I will tell you something I have never spoken of before.” He laughed and looked at her shyly. He turned back to the fire.
“When I was a boy I would wander in the hills of Emmaus. So much so that my mother and father were afraid I might become a wanderer, perhaps join one of the passing caravans.
Nicodemus thought a moment, remembering. “But I was searching.”
“I prayed to God always, asking to hear His voice. I wanted to be like Samuel and hear my name called in the night.
He poked at the fire with the tongs leaning next to it. “I wanted to see the bush that was burning like Moses did. Once, I even set a bush on fire.” He looked at his wife and shrugged his shoulders.
She watched him talking and loved him. So much like a boy even after all these years, she thought.
“And now this man, this Jesus…” He looked over at her again. “His words stir up those feelings I felt so long ago.”
He sighed, put his hands on his knees, and rose to his feet. “I must go see him again.”
He stood beside her and took her hand for a moment. He bent to kiss her, and putting on his cloak, he walked out.
As he walked the dark streets he felt very small. His knee was sore. I am an old man, he thought, and a foolish one. He thought about the many times he had heard Jesus teaching often rebuking the other Pharisees. Rebuking him. He shook his head. He did not understand the hatred, the talk of killing this man. Mostly it was the younger men. Under his breath he laughed a little and said “they are all younger than me!”
The older men he remembered mentoring him so long ago would have listened to this man. He was sure of it.
At the door of the house where Jesus was staying he was gripped with sudden fear. He stood there wrestling with it and was ready to turn back when the door opened. A small group of people who followed Jesus walked out, and they recognized him. As they passed him he saw the surprise on their faces. Every one nodded respectfully and called him Rabbi.
He knew he had been found out. Standing outside the still open door he saw Jesus sitting inside watching him. He felt like a child.
“Come in where there is light, Nicodemus.”
He went in a sat before Jesus. He looked around and saw they were alone.
“Rabbi. I..I have been unsettled for some time. My poor wife…” He was quiet for a moment as he studied the floor.
“The things you spoke to me last night, what I heard you teaching today at the synagogue. Your words..” His words trailed off, and he felt tears in his eyes.
“Rabbi I have wanted to see God all my life. Hear His voice. I wanted to be like Samuel and hear my name called in the night.” His voice broke as he looked up at Jesus.
“I wandered the desert like Moses looking for a bush on fire….”
He sat remembering, unsure whether he should go on.
“Nicodemus, I saw you.”
Something in the way Jesus said those words startled the old man, He looked at Jesus, trying to see. There was kindness in his eyes.
“I saw you.” He waited. “Nicodemus, I was with you when you set the bush on fire”
Nicodemus felt shaky. Only his wife knew that part of the story. He looked at Jesus and began to tremble.
“Nicodemus you have heard my voice.”
Seeing his faith, and loving him, Jesus said “Blessed is the man who’s eyes have been opened,” and put his hand on the old man to steady him. “You have never lost the hunger of that young boy who set bushes on fire. It is why you are here’”
Jesus smiled. “Nicodemus, you are indeed a teacher of Israel.”
Nicodemus realized he had gotten on his knees. The Lord’s strong hand helped him to his feet.
“Nicodemus the day is coming soon when they will put you out of the synagogue.”
“Lord I have so many questions…”
“Go home and tell your wife that she may believe in Me also”
Obeying the old man turned for the door.
Praising God all the home he laughed out loud in wonder. He felt like running and shouting! So many questions… and so many answered. He laughed again. “Tomorrow night I will take Joseph with me!”
The lamp was still lit in his window when he got to his door. His face was radiant when he stepped in. His wife rushed to him.
He wept as he held her. A pain he had held so long was gone. He looked into his wife’s eyes. They were filled with wonder.
“I have heard His voice.” he said, and began to laugh.