Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and ultra-righteous member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, came to Jesus, John tells us, “by night” (John 3:1-21) in order to question him about his teachings. Nicodemus was part of the religious establishment of the time, and he clearly went to Jesus under the cover of darkness so as not to be seen and recognized. John’s record of the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee shows us that Nicodemus was beginning to believe the truth, but he held back because of the opinions of his friends and colleagues.
The Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well outside the city of Sychar in Samaria came to draw water around noon (John 4:4-42), which was the hottest time of day when the fewest people would be at the well. It is unlikely that anyone would purposely plan a trip to the well at that time unless they wanted to avoid people. But, as someone doubtless shunned or shamed by her neighbors because of her sexual relations with a number of men, the Samaritan woman had good reason to go to the well at a time when she would not meet others. She doubtless went then because of her discomfort with her neighbors’ opinion of her.
The two individuals were worlds apart. Nicodemus was a respected member of the privileged religious elite in the Judean capital of Jerusalem; the Samaritan woman was a shamed individual from a despised culture in a rustic backwater of the country. Spiritually, Nicodemus may have needed help to see his sin and the Samaritan woman may have needed help to see her worth, but both individuals shared something in common – they both evidently feared the opinions of others and sought to avoid those who might look down on them.
It is unlikely that John juxtaposed his accounts of these individuals in the way he did without intending his readers to see the connection of fear implied in both stories. Whatever our background, whatever our own perception of our standing before God, we may adjust our behavior in order to cope with our inherent human fear of the opinions of others. But after meeting with the one they came to see was probably the Messiah, both individuals found the courage to act without shame and without cover.
Nicodemus later spoke with courage to remind his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that a person should be heard before being judged (John 7:50–51), and then, after the crucifixion, he helped to prepare the body of the reviled and executed Jesus for burial (John 19:39–42). In the same way, after meeting Jesus, the Samaritan woman – if she had been avoiding her neighbors – now found the courage to tell them all about the one she had met who was the Christ.
We may not be like Nicodemus or like the Samaritan woman. Perhaps our lives are being lived out somewhere between those of the two individuals, the saint and the serial sinner. But like them, if we have met with Jesus in our lives, we will be strengthened to live above the opinions of others.