Joseph of Arimathea – Stepping out of the shadows

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Jesus.  I was walking past as he was teaching in the temple courts and I stopped in my tracks and joined the fringes of the crowd to listen.  There was something compelling about the way he spoke, telling his hearers about the Kingdom of God. I long to see God’s kingdom come. I read those beautiful, hope-filled words in the prophets about justice and mercy, about the good news being proclaimed and desperate people finding hope and healing and was filled with such yearning. Then, when I heard Jesus speak and saw the things he did, it dawned on me that somehow, despite all of my expectations, the Kingdom of God was coming through him.  He was the one about whom the prophets had spoken.  The problem was, not everyone saw it that way. I’m part of the Sanhedrin, the temple council; we advise the High Priest, meeting at his request, to make important decisions about the life of the temple.  Most of us try and make decisions that uphold our faith and honour the Lord, but others see it as a means to power.  Well, over time, it became clear that the high priest and some others saw Jesus as a problem, a threat to their power.   At first they viewed him as an irritant, but the more he spoke up and challenged their hypocrisy, the more popular he seemed to get with the people, the more determined the High Priest and some of the Sanhedrin were to have Jesus silenced.  Only Nicodemus dared to speak out against them.  I, to my shame, kept silent.  I was frightened, to tell you the truth.

It all came to a head in the week leading to the Passover.  First, on Sunday Jesus entered into Jerusalem, acclaimed as King by the crowd; then he made a scene in the temple, driving out the money lenders and condemning the corrupt practices he saw; then, throughout the week, he was very open in his criticism of the temple authorities and from the mutterings I’d heard, it was clear they’d had enough of him.  This teacher had to go.  

I wasn’t there at his trial. I’m not important enough.  Caiaphas, the high priest had organised it without me, assembled enough of his supporters to ensure they could pass a death sentence – they only needed twenty-three to get the job done.   Though I’d kept quiet about my allegiance to Jesus, Caiaphas would have known I wasn’t going to be in cahoots with his plans.  I was horrified when I found out about the trial.  They’d hurled insults and false accusations at Jesus.  They sentenced an innocent man to death.  I did not consent to this decision. I played no part in this action.  It made me ashamed to be part of such a council and never to have spoken up for this man.

During that awful day, when Jesus was dying on that cross, all I was thinking about was how I could help him.  I wanted to do something, to somehow step out of the shadows and show where my allegiance truly lay, but I couldn’t think what.  Then, when I heard that Jesus had died, I knew what I could do.  I went to Pilate and asked for permission to bury Jesus and place him in the tomb I had just had dug in the local caves for myself and my family.  Pilate was surprised to say the least, probably wondering  why I was showing such an interest.  I just told him that I felt the least I could do was to make sure that Jesus got a proper burial.  We bought the grave clothes, had Jesus taken down from the cross, wrapped up his body and placed it in the tomb.  Everyone else on the council was now busy getting ready for the Passover, they weren’t going to pose an immediate danger to me, but in time everyone will find out where my allegiance really lies, that I’m a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, who was wrongly killed today.  They will find out in time, and I’m not afraid of what they might do to me.  It’s time to step out of the shadows.  It’s time to be counted.

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