What if they find out? What if you're exposed? You could lose your position, your wealth, even your life. These people, your fellow Pharisees, are serious-deadly serious.
The Rabbi has had them in an uproar for some time now. He seemed to go out of his way to antagonize them. Imagine, breaking the Sabbath so audaciously, time and again. Calling your fellow Pharisees all manner of names. And he claimed to be from God! But then, you realize, he did have a point.
You reflect on those early days when word about this teacher started buzzing around. People were gossiping like mad. Was he for real, they wondered, or just another crackpot? Could it be that he was the Messiah? And what's this about miracles--even healings? Was he a magician, a trickster, a huckster, or something more? Something real?
It wasn't really so long ago. You can't believe how, in such a short time, he came to captivate so many--and to infuriate so many others.
There was the time early on when you had to find out for yourself. You are a Pharisee, after all, one of the leaders responsible for the religious wellbeing of the people. And some of the things you'd heard about him were intriguing.
So you'd secretly made arrangements to meet with him. It had to be late at night so no one would see you, just in case. You just wanted to talk to him, to look him in the eye and hear what he had to say.
To say you were blown away by him would be an understatement. Oh, he was for real. But what a reality! What he said to you that night made no sense, and yet it did, more than anything you've ever known.
You had approached him that night with respect. After all, you did respect him, for few had gathered such a throng of followers as quickly as he had. And the signs he'd been performing were difficult if not impossible to refute. But you had so many questions, so many doubts.
And there you were--you, Nicodemus! A beloved leader of the Jews, well respected, knowledgeable, taught by many great elders in the ways of the faith for years. And this man tells you, "No one--not even you!--can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Be born again? How does one accomplish that? Born from above? It was ridiculous. But the more the Rabbi spoke, the more sense it made to you. And yet it couldn't be true. Who was this man? What was his training? And he mocked you as a teacher of Israel who couldn't understand these simple things he said!
But then he spoke of God's love for the whole world, and you could feel it. And he spoke of the light that has come into the world, and you could see it. And you listened keenly to his every word. What he said that night still reverberates in your mind and your heart.
You left him that clandestine night more confused than before. And yet... and yet a connection had been forged between you that you could not shrug off.
And later the Rabbi had gotten in trouble with your colleagues, who were upset that he was getting out of hand. The temple police had failed to arrest him, and it was clear that his spell had even taken hold of some of them. Were these temple police, too, deceived? When you tried to speak up, suggesting calmly but a bit nervously to your Pharisaic brethren that the law doesn't judge someone without a proper hearing, they jumped on you, wondering if perhaps you weren't one of his followers as well.
That was a close one. Clearly, you had to be very careful. You had to cover your tracks. You had to watch your words, lest those in power question you, perhaps even arrest you as a follower of this radical Rabbi. Was it worth your life to continue pursuing this mad man?
But what if he was who he claimed to be? What if you missed out on the most important relationship you could ever experience in this or any other life?
Now, darkness has fallen, and the Rabbi's enemies have had their way. Jesus has been put to death. You've heard from your friend and colleague, Joseph of Arimathea--another secret follower--that he needs your help. He's asking Pilate permission to take the man's body, prepare it, and put it in a tomb before the Sabbath comes. You must act quickly before it's too late.
You wonder whether it's really wise to help. Emotions stir violently in you. You fear what might happen if you're found out. You grieve the loss of this Jesus, this amazing teacher and healer, this one who more than anyone else has provoked your heart. This friend of yours has been put to death violently. He did not deserve this.
But what could you have done about it? Could you have said more, or would it only have meant your own destruction?
And yet, wouldn't it have been worth your very life to stand with him, to speak out for him? To come out of the shadows and identify yourself as his? To end the secrecy, and to live authentically? Wouldn't it matter more than anything now for you to help spread the word about this amazing man--this Messiah--and to touch others in need in his name?
As these questions whirl painfully around your mind, you gather the burial spices, the myrrh and aloes, and the linen cloths. It is certainly a heavy load to carry, but you must hurry and meet Joseph and get the broken body. Right now, you must do this. You can struggle with your questions later. Perhaps tomorrow, after the Sabbath.
Or Sunday. Yes, perhaps by Sunday you'll have some clarity about what to do next.
[Passages referenced: John 3:1-21; 7:40-52; 19:38-42]
[A version of this appeared on Patheos.com]