Joseph of Arimethea was a wealthy and respected member of the Jewish council, the same group that sent Jesus to his death. He and his colleagues had what we might call power and privilege. So, why didn’t he speak up with at least a mild objection at that time?
- Mark says he “was himself also looking for the kingdom of God.”
- Matthew calls him a “disciple” of Jesus.
- Luke records he was “a good and righteous man.”
- John chimes in that he was “a disciple of Jesus but secretly for fear of the Jews.”
Did he sit silently through the sham trial of Jesus as his colleagues raced to build false testimony against him? Did he even think of standing up to defend this man he had secretly followed? Luke says he “did not consent to their decision and action,” but no one mentions if he spoke out on Jesus’ behalf even in private.
Like Joseph, I confess that fear keeps me sitting down when I should stand and speak. I doubt that my voice would make a difference anyway, so why raise it only to lose friends that disagree with my assessment of injustice in the world, be it in Europe, at our own southern border, when Christians blindly follow conspiracy theories about elections and pandemics. Maybe Joseph reasoned this way also. Honestly, what could one person do against the united powers of the religious leaders and the Roman Empire or the power brokers in American politics?
Whatever Joseph did or didn’t do, Jesus did die and his followers were scattered. Injustice reigned. Yet it was this moment that Joseph chose to act. Mark says he “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus,” an act that could possibly cost him his position, if not his own life.
At face value he acted a day late and dollar short. But still his actions are called courage. It’s a brave person that can look despair defeat in the face and stand up anyway. To say nothing of the tenderness it took when “taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of rock.” It was his own tomb and that he rolled a stone across the entrance after laying Jesus inside.
I’m remind of what Jesus said to the church of Philadelphia: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8) Sometimes that’s all it takes is a “little strength.”
When he left, the man from Arimethea had no idea that the story wasn’t over. He couldn’t have imagined that his courageous act, which most likely would get him a black ball in the ruling Council, while Jesus was dead would soon be part of the story when Jesus would come to life again! But he did it anyway! We can’t know what God will do if we lift our voice against the tide. There might be a stone-rolling, thunder-clapping, earth-quaking on its way!
We all want God’s kingdom to emerge in our world that feels so hopeless. If you’re like me, you’re tempted to stay silent in the face of injustice. What do we do? Like Joseph, we show up too late without anything significant to offer, or so we think. Better late than never (to coin a phrase)! God seems to take our too lates and turn them into just on times!
Let’s gather up our courage and recommit to pursuing goodness in the world. Let’s face our fears and “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8), carried by the improbable hope of a Savior who –still– lives!
Today’s only Friday, but Sunday’s coming!
(I’m indebted to an article by We Choose Welcome, an organization that works to bring justice to immigration policy in America and around the world. )