In the first part of this series, we considered Joseph of Egypt, the character from the end of Genesis. Today, we turn our attention to one of the New Testament Josephs.
What do we know about Joseph of Arimathea? He was evidently a wealthy man, since he could afford to have a tomb hewn out of rock for himself. He was from a placed called Arimathea, which was a town of Judah (c.f., Luke 23:51). According to a description in the third Gospel (Luke 23:50), he may have been a member of the Sanhedrin. He is, furthermore, described as “a disciple of Jesus,” but, notably, “a secret one, for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38). So he was a man of faith, but a man, in some ways, ashamed of his faith.
Although we don’t know a great deal about him, what we do know is very telling. In the mind of the Gospel writers, the early life of Joseph of Arimathea is totally inconsequential. All that matters is the scene immediately following the death of Jesus. This single afternoon defined his entire character. It is, in fact, the only day of his life for which history remembers him.
There are two major things Joseph of Arimathea did on this particular day that are worthy of our special attention. The first is described in the Gospel of Luke: “He went to Pilate and asked for the Body of Jesus” (Luke 23:52). That word, “asked,” really catches my attention. In Greek, it’s a very strong word (ᾐτήσατο). It can mean to ask, or beg, or desire, or crave, or even demand.
Imagine that: Joseph of Arimathea desired, even craved the body of Jesus. Don’t you imagine Joseph of Nazareth felt that same way as Mary was pregnant with Jesus? Don’t you think he craved to see Who this little Child would be? The initiative of Joseph to go to Pilate and ask for the Body of Jesus is simply amazing.
The second major thing that Joseph of Arimathea did that day is described in the Gospel of John: “In the place where [Jesus] had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. . . . So they laid Jesus there” (John 19:41-42). Had it not been for this one great act of generosity, in which he gave our Lord a tomb, the name “Joseph of Arimathea” would have been forgotten centuries ago. But, instead, because of his generosity, he is well remembered. It is also significant that it was not just any tomb, but “a new tomb, in which no man had yet been buried.” As Bishop Sheen famously said, Jesus was “born of a virgin womb [and] buried in a virgin tomb, . . . ‘and a Joseph did betroth them both’” (Life of Christ, Chapter 53). He goes on to add, “Born in a stranger’s cave [at Bethlehem, Jesus was] buried in a stranger’s grave” near Calvary.
And it all came to pass because a man named Joseph—Joseph of Arimathea—gave of his wealth to perform a corporal work of mercy for his Lord. We could consider it the first memorial contribution in the history of the Church, but I don’t think he had a nameplate put on the tomb (!). By giving Jesus a tomb, of course, Joseph was not consigning Him to death. Quite the contrary in fact. By giving Him a tomb, Joseph gave the Lord a place to come to life again.
There is a tremendous beauty in these two great acts of Joseph of Arimathea—the acts whereby he “asked for the Body of Jesus” and offered Him a tomb. Joseph the Carpenter did something similar. He “craved” for the Body of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. Then, by many hidden acts of generosity in Nazareth, he offered Jesus a place—a home—to come to fullness of life.
Now, in our own day, each one of us is called to repeat these same very acts. Whenever we come to Mass or adoration or benediction, we are called to “desire,” to “crave” for the Body of Jesus in the Eucharist. Then, as we receive Him physically into our bodies, we are called to give Jesus a place within ourselves to come to life again.
Do we truly crave after the Lord? Are we generous enough to give Him a place in our hearts? May our craving lead us to the Eucharist, and may the Eucharist bring Jesus to life within us!