Holy Saturday, April 11

I am taken by the different responses of those in power to the death of Jesus. In these few verses we see two very dissimilar reactions to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In verses 57-61 we learn of Joseph of Arimathea. This is the only time in the story of Jesus that mentions this Joseph, although he is noted in all four gospels for the same gift he gives: the use of his family tomb to bury Jesus. Our text from Matthew simply describes him as rich and a disciple of Jesus. Other gospel accounts add that he was a member of the council, that he had not consented to their decision and action, how he assisted Nicodemus in taking Jesus’ body off of the cross and preparing it for burial, that he even bought the burial cloth. Whatever the details, it is clear this wealthy follower of Jesus was willing to be seen and known as his disciple, even though Jesus’ teachings had been clear and harsh for those with great wealth and power (Matthew 6:19, Matthew 19:21-23, Luke 4:18, Luke 14:33, etc.)

This is contrasted with the response of the Pharisees (vss. 62-66), also in a position of power, at least relative to most of the citizens of Palestine. The Pharisees respond with fear, and with some of the typical human reactions that are based in fear. They assume the worst will happen and that Jesus’ followers will engage in deceit, just as they are doing. They concoct stories that would divert the public’s attention should something happen outside of their control. They use force and the assumption of violence to try to minimize a presumed uprising if Jesus’ body does not remain in the tomb.

Most of us reading this devotion have some access to wealth and some semblance of power. Do we respond to Jesus’ life and teachings which seek to hold us accountable for our privileges with understanding and empathy, as Joseph of Arimathea did, or do we respond in fear and with force, as did the Pharisees? What if we spent Holy Saturday quietly pondering this challenge?

Prayer: God of the sacred wounded and light of the oppressed, we wait in silence aware of the void without you in our midst. We wait in silence for your power once again in all places and for all persons. Amen.

– Allen V. Harris

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