Jesus’ name had been buzzing throughout Galilee after the turning of water into wine at Cana. His early visit to Jerusalem was a hit; people were asking questions about him after seeing tremendous signs and wonders during Passover. John tells us that Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee, dropped by one night to say that he liked the teachings and work of this up and coming rabbi. Maybe if this Jesus played his cards right—said the right things, made the right career moves—he, too, could become very influential, even a leader of the people someday. Some of the Pharisees had high hopes for Jesus; God was using him to do good deeds and encourage others.
Young ministers like us know just what to do when we receive such a compliment. The professor stops by the lunch table to say that she liked your final term paper. An executive presbyter mentions that he passed on your résumé to the anchor church of a wealthy neighborhood. We shake our heads in astonishment, say thank you profusely, and promise to work all the harder with a vigorous handshake. Just like Jesus, we receive compliments from wise ministers who have gone before us. Success seems to indicate that we are fulfilling our calling.
What’s odd about Jesus, however, is that he doesn’t show any such common sense during his chat with Nicodemus. He engages in debate with his would-be mentor and offers strange metaphors about new life. Jesus talks about a second birth for believers and the movement of the Spirit in unexpected ways. He finishes his bizarre conversation by speaking about the lifting up of the Son of Man like the serpent in the desert for the salvation of many. Why would Jesus end this meeting with talk about God’s work in ministry and the foreshadowing of his own death?
Lent reminds us that Christian ministry is always grounded in both the life and death of the Son of God. Jesus’ preaching and miracles attracted many followers; huge crowds gathered to see and hear what he might do next. His actions garnered the praise of influential men like Nicodemus. But Jesus also wandered in solitude, knew the betrayal of friends, and died alone on a cross. Sometimes following Jesus does not end in encouraging compliments and opportunities, but hardship and criticism. Sometimes ministry can feel like death to self and the world. The Good News of Lent is that God brings life out of even the most difficult circumstances. When hard times arise in ministry and nothing seems to go right, we pray, worship, and work in faith that what lies beyond the cross is an empty tomb and resurrection.
Comments? Contact the Office of Student Life