Game Over

Stephen, Gamaliel and Nicodemus

Just before a boy enters the barbershop, the barber tells his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. I had been playing this game with him for several months now. Watch.” The barber puts a dollar in one open palm and two quarters in the other and asks the kid, “Which do you want?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “See?” says the barber, laughing. Later, the customer passes the boy, who is standing outside a candy store. “Why’d you take the quarters and not the dollar?” he asks. “Because,” says the boy, “the day I take the dollar, the game’s over.”

Most of our children, who play video games, know what the words ‘Game Over’ means. It is a traditional message which usually signals the game has ended with a negative outcome, and that the player has failed to complete the game.

The day the Pharisees see Nicodemus in the company of Jesus, the game is over. He was a leading member of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. So he had to see him in the darkness of the night. This is the episode we would call Nic at Night.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and Pharisees measure and judge things in the externals. To a Pharisee, faith is best seen from the outside: the clothes they wore, the titles they carried, the prayers they said and the gifts they brought. To every Pharisee, conformity is the norm. For as long as they follow what the law says, for as long as they observe what the commandment teaches, for as long as they conform to the acts and behaviors of their fellow Pharisees, things would be alright.

Most of us can relate with Nicodemus. Some of us are afraid to see Jesus in the light for fear that his brilliance will expose our weaknesses. Some of us are not willing to see Jesus in the light lest he challenges us to do something more, lest he calls us to being more than who we are.

To conform to the crowd, to be politically correct, to be the average Joe or Mary is one of the pitfalls that could pin us down in today’s world. Horrible things in history have happened because of conformity. Terrible things have happened to humanity because of conformity. The words “Crucify Him” that brought Jesus down on Good Friday came from the same people and crowd that shouted “Hosannas” to him five days earlier. They praised him first and then they condemned him. His fellow Jews and the forces of Rome, Pontius Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas, Herod the Great: they all ganged up on him and brought Jesus to a death that was so unjust.

Where was the multitude of people who followed Jesus from town to town? Where were those who left their families and possessions to be with Jesus during his years of ministry? Where were those whom he cured, healed, forgiven, blessed and given strength?

They were hiding in the dark. They had fear in their eyes. They were afraid to speak up to what they believed and who they loved. Albert Einstein said that the world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who do not do anything about it. During the Second World War, a German Protestant named Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984) wrote something like this: ”In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

Helen Keller was right when she wrote that science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all: the apathy of human beings .
However, the mission of Jesus is essentially that: to show to each one and all that the good Lord, His Father, is not yet disappointed with the people he created. There will always be people of the light who will shun the darkness. There will always be men and women who will reflect in their lives the good, the true and the holy.

During the time of Jesus, there was one extraordinary person who did that. His name was Nicodemus. He knew in his heart that something was missing in what he believed. And he heard what he wanted from Jesus Himself: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

For as long as we believe in Jesus, for as long as we follow what he commanded, for as long as we seek the light, the love of God will prevail. With that promise, it will be our constant hope, struggle and prayer that never will it be said to us that the Game is Over.

22 March 2009

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