Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” – John 3:1-2 (NIV)
When I was (more of) a workaholic young minister, a clergy friend changed my life with the following words: “Your marriage promises, and the promises you made to your children when they were baptized, come before your ordination promises. Indeed, they are what will enable you to keep your ordination promises.” With that one proclamation he gave me a way of radically reorienting my life that allowed me to more or less keep my mojo as minister (a notorious high-burnout career), stabilized my marriage through hard times, and kept me from meltdown levels of mommy guilt when pulled between church and my children.
All of us, including Nicodemus, stand at the crossroads of conflicting promises we have made. Whether the promises were explicit oaths or implied commitments, we can feel drawn and quartered by them in a confounding civilization that wants to extract ever more—not just from the earth but from the creatures living on it.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, which doesn’t mean he was necessarily a vowed priest. But it gave him a primary allegiance to the ruling council, which probably precluded collaborating with the likes of Jesus. Then again, one of the guiding principles of the Pharisees’ study was to be open to fresh interpretations of scripture. So in betraying his brethren by going to Jesus for new teaching, he was actually keeping their primary pledge: to stay open.
God, how would you have us order the promises we have made as we move through life? How would you have us keep our commitments—or break them because you offer us new and better ones?
Molly Baskette pastors at First Church Berkeley (CA) UCC. She is the author of several books about church renewal, parenting & faith, and spirituality. You can connect with her by subscribing to her newsletter, Doomsday Dance Party.