One of the more intriguing figures in Holy Scripture is Joseph of Arimathea. He is cited in all four gospel narratives, accounting for just 16 verses. His role in taking down Christ from the cross after the crucifixion and burying him, contains various elements documented in the three Synoptic gospels, and well as in John’s. Yet what is consistent is that all four evangelist record that it was a) Joseph who wrapped the Lord in a linen burial shroud (Matthew 27:57, Mark 15:46, Luke 24:53, John 19:40), and b) placed him in a new tomb (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46, Luke 24:53, John 19:41). Matthew’s gospel records that the tomb belonged to Joseph, suggesting, perhaps, this was the tomb where Joseph had planned to be buried.
We learn from Matthew’s gospel that Joseph was “a rich man” and “disciple of Christ” (27:57) and it was he who “rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb” (57:60); Mark records that Joseph was a respected member of the council (elders who were appointed to sit as a tribunal at every city in Jerusalem) at that time. Luke meanwhile, chronicles that Joseph was from the Judean town of Arimathea, a good and righteous man, who himself was looking for the Kingdom of God. The only variance in John’s account, which is not noted in the Synoptics, John identifies Nicodemus as the one who brought spices to anoint the Lord (19:39).
What is unique to Mark’s Gospel is that Joseph “… took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus” (15:43). This is actually important to know regarding Joseph. That Joseph was rich and a respected member of the Sanhedrin would indicate that he took great risk in asking for the Body of Christ. His livelihood and perhaps even his wealth, could have been sacrificed. Various scholars agree that noting that Joseph was rich was not to show that our Lord associated with wealthy people, but more so that it demonstrated to Pilate he could possibly trust Joseph in his position as a council member. Certainly Joseph could be trusted, Pilate may have thought, and would carry through with his intentions to see that a fitting burial was a proper tribute for the one whose death he could have prevented in his role as the Roman prefect (governor). The proximity of Joseph’s tomb was ideal, as it was located near the site of the Crucifixion, scholars have detailed. We know however, Pilate capitulated to the crowd who asked for the release of Barabbas (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, 23:25, John 18:41).
What ultimately makes Joseph, a disciple and student of Christ, such an enduring figure is the courage he displayed came at quite a risk. In order to protect our own self-interests quite often, then we are averse to being risks takers, as there may be a price to pay. Joseph risked everything: wealth, reputation, his career as an influential member of the Sanhedrin, possible imprisonment, and ultimately, perhaps even his life. Orthodox hymnography refers to him as The Noble Joseph.
Joseph, along with Nicodemus, belongs to the ranks of saints who are identified in the Liturgy “as every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.” Each baptized person has a personal vocation to the church: to care for it, to beautify it, to defend, and protect it. There will be barriers and obstacles, just as there was for Joseph. Every Christian person is called to be a disciple of Christ, and at times it may take gallantry to do so. May God bless us each with the same boldness and valor that he gifted to Joseph of Arimathea.
“A mortal went in before a mortal, asking to receive God; the God of mortal he begs; clay stands before clay so as to receive the Fashioner of all … Verily was he rich, because he received the two-fold nature of Christ from Pilate. He was rich indeed, because he was accounted worthy to carry off the priceless Pearl. Truly he was rich, for he bore away the Pouch overflowing with the treasure of Divinity. And how would that man not be rich who acquired the Life and salvation of the world?”
~ Saint Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (Cyprus), 320-403
Father Marc Vranes
Third Sunday of Pascha
3 May 2020