October 29, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news from Luke 23:50-56.
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.
Had I been Luke writing this I would have added that Joseph was a tender man. A member of the Sanhedrin with ready access to Pilate, he was undoubtedly a well-to-do man with employees or servants to do much of his labor. Yet here he was removing the nails and unbinding the cords that held Jesus to the cross, carefully cradling a body caked with blood and smeared with other bodily fluids. There was probably weeping and wailing and people gawking at this spectacle. It was a grim task in a emotion-laden scene.
What led Joseph to the cross and from the cross to the tomb? A clue may be that Luke tells us that Joseph was awaiting the kingdom of God. He was expecting its arrival perhaps then and now with Jesus’ death. First, though, there were pragmatic matters to be dealt with. An observant Jew, Joseph knew that the body couldn’t be left overnight and that nothing could be done on the following day, the sabbath. An immediate decision and action were required. So, we know that Joseph was a decisive man determined to get Jesus into a tomb even if he had to do it himself.
That’s the mindset in which he operated, but what was his motivation? At the least, he must have believed that Jesus was a prophet, the voice of God, a harbinger of God’s coming kingdom. He would have thought that a prophet should be honored and properly buried. The way Luke tells this story makes it very personal, even intimate. I think Joseph was driven not just by the desire to honor Jesus but because he loved him as well. I think he had come to believe that Jesus was indeed the son of God. As he loved God, he loved His Son. I can’t imagine what else other than love would have compelled Joseph to act so decisively, to persuade Pilate to hand over Jesus’ body to him, to tenderly remove his battered, bloodied body from the cross, to carefully wrap him in linen, and carry him in grief to a tomb where he gently laid him down.
In that great love for Jesus I think that Joseph found the kingdom of God. He found forgiveness; he found peace; he found hope. The kingdom of God had arrived for him in the least expected way — in suffering and death. Jesus was God’s suffering servant that Joseph had read about in the scriptures. Now, Joseph could understand just what that meant and he was able to join in the suffering; he could embrace the pain and enter God’s kingdom, God’s unremitting love that overcomes everything.
It is amazing what I can do when I act purely out of love for another. I can overcome my own squeamishness; I can find courage and strength; I can forgive. Most importantly, though, I can experience God’s love for me. I can enter His kingdom. I, too, am awaiting the kingdom of God. This story about Joseph tells me that it is always there awaiting me, awaiting me to act from pure love for God and his children.