Monday, September 7, 2009

The day of Preparation

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and 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 waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

- Mark 15:40-47

In this passage, we get a sense of people involved with Jesus' ministry who are not mentioned as key figures throughout the gospels. But they are important nevertheless, in rounding out the picture of participation and of those who follow Jesus.

First of all there are the mothers of disciples and other women who were with Jesus in his ministry, who have followed him to Jerusalem. These women were with him in his ministry in Galilee, helping and providing, and many have followed Jesus to Jerusalem. Mary Magdalene is a follower, while Mary the Mother of James the Younger and Joses is most likely the mother of James Alphaeus, and Salome the mother of John and James Zebedee. James Alphaeus (also called James the Less) and John and James Zebedee were members of the twelve. Just as they followed and helped in the ministry, so they have followed and stayed with the Lord from afar, and they will continue to actively serve and help though others have scattered, and play a key role in what is to come.

Joseph of Arimathea is another figure whose mention in the gospels is significant. He was a member of the council, the Sanhedrin, who was sympathetic to Jesus' message. He went boldly to Pilate, we are told, and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate is stunned that this prisoner has passed so quickly; usually those that were crucified last much longer in their torture and suffering before death. Joseph comes for Jesus' body, wraps it in a linen cloth and takes it to the tomb he has provided. In this important way, we see those we'd not normally consider to be central players in this ministry - as they have not played a key role so far in these gospels - who act with great courage. The disciples are scattered, yet these faithful - the women and Joseph who is a member of the Sanhedrin - take bold steps at Jesus' death, claiming his body and caring for what must be done. I feel that it is very important that we have this information. Joseph of Arimathea is not just important because of his role in the provision of a tomb, but because his presence and action convey that not all the council is hostile to Jesus. And, we are told he is an important member of the Sanhedrin. Tradition holds that Joseph of Arimathea would go on to evangelize the British Isles.

So, as the disciples are scattered, the importance of those seen as playing "lesser," supporting roles in this ministry is emphasized, through their willingness to step up and care for Jesus' body, and to minister to him even in death. We will see shortly how these figures then come to play an awesome role in this story, and by inference, how each of us can make a difference whether we understand ourselves to be important or significant to ministry in any way. Just as the woman at Bethany was to anoint Jesus' feet before his burial and play so significant a role in events that were to come via this act, so Joseph of Arimathea and these women will play a decisive role in the most transcendent event in the gospels. It is a telling story, that gives us a sense of what is significant and what is not -- that indeed this kingdom is not about who is great but about the greatness that faith can create, and what a difference any of our actions can make.

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