Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nicodemus and Stymie

My first run in with the name of Nicodemus came through the Our Gang series. Seriously, a lot of credit for opening up the classics, as well as the Bible, came from the stuff on television. Of course you had to be open enough; and curious enough; to want to find out who they were talking about. In the case of Nicodemus, this curiosity began with Stymie; the black kid with the bowler hat; who was I believe looking for; or talking about; a cat. I could be wrong about the scenario, but it was Stymie.

Anyway, through the years I have run into the name Nicodemus on road signs, road maps, state maps; even ships are named for him. Often enough, most people have no idea who he was. Some even attribute myth like origin to his name. Even some regular church going people would be hard pressed to tell you just who he was, or why he is important. I attribute that to a lack of effort on the part of the average clergyman. But, luckily, you have Rooftop Reviews to enlighten you about this, and on a Sunday, no less!

Nicodemus was the guy pictured, or rather depicted, in the Pieta; the statue by Michelangelo shown above. That statue was displayed at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and 1965. It was one of the Pope’s goodwill efforts in advance of his visit to the city the following year. Say what you want about the church, that move made quite an impression upon this Jewish kid from Brooklyn; not the least of which was based upon the fact that this hunk of marble was a Michelangelo all the way from Europe!

And, as if that were not impressive enough, the Pieta depicted my beloved Nicodemus, the same one who was introduced to me by Stymie in the “Our Gang” series, as I mentioned earlier. So here I was, the only one at the World’s Fair looking at this thing in connection with Stymie. But, I was awed. And the story of Nicodemus, and how he became involved in the story of Jesus Christ, is fascinating whether or not you believe in Jesus. I make that statement as a candle lighting, Sabbath observing Jew.

Nicodemus, who was later made a Saint, was a Pharisee who lived at the time of Jesus' death. As written in the Gospel of John, Nicodemus showed favor to Jesus, and appears with him three time. He visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings, as written in John 3:1–21. The next time you read about him is in the portion covering the Feast of Unleavened Bread, John 7:45–51, where he discusses the law concerning Jesus arrest and imprisonment with the other disciples. And, the last time he appears in the Bible is at the Crucifixion, when he helps a man named Joseph (not Jesus' father) to prepare the corpse for burial, as told in John 19:39–42.

Nicodemus is not mentioned elsewhere in history, but he is one of the first Jews to be “born again” and his experience is considered to be the source of that expression. The Jewish Encyclopedia has traced the origins of this man to Nicodemus ben Gurion, who is mentioned in the Talmud as a wealthy and popular religious figure who possessed miraculous powers. In the Christian faith, Nicodemus is thought to have been killed in the 1st Century and is considered to be a martyr.

And that, my friends, is the story of Nicodemus and how I became acquainted with his name. And they say nothing good was on TV when I was a kid!

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