Lord, this day is yours. You have made it, you have ordained it. I will rejoice and be glad in it! Guide my steps, anoint my words, reign over my emotions, and let your love and light flow through me into the world as I move throughout this day. I surrender to you, to your plan, to your ways, and to your divine appointments. May I walk in step with your spirit today. Amen.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47, ESV)
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61, ESV)
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man,who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:50-56, ESV)
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five poundsin weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42, ESV)
Does God expect everyone who follows Jesus to choose poverty? Is it truly impossible for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven? Is being wealthy sinful? There are people in Christendom who would answer “yes” to all of the above. I have been in conversations with folks who believe that God prefers the poor. I have friends who believe that scripture makes the case that God loves poor people more than rich people, and that to aspire to worldly wealth is to deny the Jesus Way.
Does God promise worldly wealth, rewarding faithfulness with financial abundance? Is financial gain a sign of spiritual blessing? Is it true that followers of Christ can “name and claim” wealth? There are people in Christendom who would answer “yes” to these questions. Entire ministries are rooted in the belief that faithfulness is rewarded by financial prosperity.
Neither of these conclusions reflects the heart of scripture’s teaching. God is not impressed by our financial status, nor does he promise financial gain as a reward for faithfulness. Rich people and poor people alike idolize money. And rich people and poor people alike hold their wealth with hands that are so wide open that money flows through them like a rushing river into many places in the world where it is needed most. God does not demand poverty. God demands devotion. And while worldly wealth certainly has its temptations, which we must be aware of and ruthlessly guarded against, our socioeconomic status is not what God is examining. What does the Lord require of his followers? “To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)
In today’s passage from Mark, we are looking at a wealthy, righteous disciple of Christ. I shared this passage from all four of the Gospel sources today, because together they tell us a more comprehensive story about this fascinating character in the Passion narrative: Joseph of Arimathea. Mark tells us that he was “a respected member of the Council, Matthew tells us that he was “a rich man from Arimathea,” and Luke says he was “a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action.” Both Matthew and John describe him as “a disciple of Jesus,” and both Luke and Mark say that he was “looking for the kingdom of God.”
Joseph of Arimathea was a rich member of the Jewish Council.
Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus.
Joseph of Arimathea was looking for the kingdom of God.
We don’t know much about Joseph of Arimathea’s role during Jesus’s ministry on earth. He is mentioned by several first and second-century writers, but all we know of him in scripture is what the Gospel writers tell us in these four passages, including this: Joseph offered his influence and wealth to Jesus in death. Along with the other disciples, he was surely disillusioned and disappointed at the death of his teacher. As a disciple, Joseph of Arimathea surely believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and when Jesus died on the cross, his disciples’ faith in him as the long-awaited deliverer was dismantled, leaving them shocked and broken.
Yet, even in death, this disciple honored his Lord. He offered what he had to give: influence and wealth. He used his influence to gain access to Pilate, asking for Jesus’s body so that he might be given a proper Jewish burial, before sundown on the day before the Sabbath (when no body could be buried because of the work involved in burial). And he used his wealth in order to offer Jesus burial in “his own new tomb” (Matthew 27:60), a burial fit for a man of honor. Many believe that by doing this, he fulfilled a messianic prophecy, that the Messiah would be “with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9)
We live in a day and age when labels are used as weapons. In some camps, to be poor is to be dismissed and to be wealthy is to be privileged. In other camps, to be poor is to be honored and to be wealthy is to be villainized. But neither of these camps truly represent the Jesus Way. In the Jesus Way, anyone who is seeking the kingdom of heaven is welcome, whether they are rich or poor. While some are certainly called by God to choose poverty as part of living a life of faithfulness, Joseph of Arimathea is an example of one called by God to possess great wealth and influence, and to offer that wealth and influence on behalf of the kingdom of heaven generously and open-handedly.
Are you wealthy? Are you poor? Are you somewhere in between? Regardless of what you have in your bank account, the same thing is required of you, if you follow Jesus: do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Give generously. Hold your wealth or poverty loosely. Honor God with whatever you have, be it ten dollar bills or ten million dollar bonds. Practice hospitality. And, above all, be one who, like Joseph of Arimathea, is always and earnestly “looking for the kingdom of God.”