By Teresa Mottet
Today I was reading the accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial in all of the Gospels, comparing the stories. Some Gospels include details the others leave out.
I was particularly interested in the accounts of his burial. In Matthew 28:59-60 we read: “Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in fresh linen and laid it in his own new tomb which had been hewn from a formation of rock.”
In the previous verse, 57, Matthew identifies Joseph as a “wealthy man from Arimathea.” Mark identifies him in 16:43 as “a distinguished member of the Sanhedrin. He was another who looked forward to the reign of God. He was bold enough to seek an audience with Pilate and urgently requested the body of Jesus.” Luke tells it this way in 19:38: “Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (although a secret one for fear of the Jews), asked Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body. Pilate granted it, so they came and took the body away.”
I pondered this Joseph of Arimathea. First, he was a wealthy man. So his tomb, which he had already arranged, would have been the very best and in a preferred location. How fitting for Jesus, King of Kings.
Although he was wealthy, Joseph was a follower of Jesus. Sometimes a person’s wealth keeps that person from hearing and following Jesus’ teachings. We recall the story of the rich young man who wants to be a follower of Jesus, but he turns away sadly rather than give up his riches (Luke 18:23). So here we have Joseph voluntarily giving up his expensive tomb to bury Jesus.
Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the highest court and council of the ancient Jewish nation. As such, he had privilege and prestige among all the people, and especially among his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. They were very careful not to oppose the Roman occupiers of the land. So Joseph was a secret follower of Jesus. He could not afford to have it known that he believed in Jesus. He would lose his prestige and probably his seat on the Sanhedrin.
It was an act of boldness, prompted by the Holy Spirit, for Joseph to go to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. Now Joseph’s secret was out. Now all would know he was a follower of Jesus. But in his great act of love for Jesus, he didn’t care about the consequences.
In describing Jesus’ death, John says, “He bowed his head and delivered over His spirit” (John 19:30, New American Bible). A footnote there says “the possible double nuance of dying (giving up the last breath or spirit) and that of passing on the Holy Spirit.” The Jerusalem Bible footnotes the same verse this way: “The last breath of Jesus is a token of the outpouring of the Spirit.” So one of the first ways we see the Spirit acting is in Joseph’s boldness in asking for Jesus’ body from Pilate.
Joseph and Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes and linen cloths and prepared Jesus’ body for burial in Joseph’s new tomb. They risked their reputations as members of the Sanhedrin to bury Jesus. What courage!
Think how Joseph must have felt after the job was finished and they returned to their homes. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and to have him buried in his very own tomb! Joseph must have had some mixed feelings, though. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but after observing the bloody crucifixion he was probably trying to make sense of it. Crucifixion did not match up with his expectations of what the Messiah would do or be.
Think how Joseph must have felt when he heard the joyous news of Jesus’ resurrection! His faith in Jesus as Messiah was restored a hundredfold, never to be shaken again.
(Teresa Mottet is a member of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield.)