Saturday, January 10, 2009

There They Laid Jesus (John 19:38-42)

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being 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 the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 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. 42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.

Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, had been a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because he was afraid of being banned from the synagogue and kicked out of the Sanhedrin. Now, however, he boldly steps forward and asks to be given the body of Jesus. At first, this might seem strange to the modern reader. Joseph was apparently not related to Jesus’ family. Why, then, should he be given Jesus’ body rather than Mary? The reason has to do with the “crime” that Jesus was convicted of. Fr. Farley explains:

“Normally the bodies of those who had been executed for treason were not granted to family and friends. Burial in such cases involved getting special permission from the governor. For Joseph to come forward with this request meant not only placing himself at odds with his Jewish colleagues in the Sanhedrin, it also meant identifying himself to the Romans as a supporter of the treasonous Galilean” (336).

Pilate grants Joseph’s request, and Joseph recruits Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus by night (see John 3), to help him in the task of giving Jesus a proper burial. Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin, and so he too was putting his career and more on the line by this courageous act. Together, the two men carry an enormous amount of a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body. This extraordinary amount of burial ointments shows their great reverence for Christ, who was worthy of such royal treatment.

The sun was setting, so the two men had to hurry. After sunset, any type of work would be illegal. The burial process took time. Fr. Farley gives us some insight into the burial process: “The aromatic spices were granular in form, and though it is difficult to discern, they were probably spread over the place where the corpse was to be lain to form a kind of bed. The purpose, of course, was to offset the odor of decomposition. St. John mentions for his non-Jewish readers that this was the custom of the Jews when the came to bury their dead. Unlike the Egyptians, they did not embalm the dead or mutilate the corpses” (336).

The body was also bound tightly with strips of linen (more on the details of this later). Then they laid Jesus’ body in a new tomb, which St. Matthew says belonged to Joseph (Matt. 27:60). The main reason they buried Jesus there was because the tomb was close to the site of the crucifixion, and they had no time to take it anywhere further. They had to complete the burial before sunset. Finally, as Matthew tells us, they pushed the large stone designed to cover the entrance, making it roll down into place to seal the entrance.

On the tomb being new, Fr. Farley has an insightful comment: “John makes a point of saying that it was a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. It was the custom to bury more than one person in a tomb, laying each body within its own nice. In this case, the tomb was entirely empty, with the result that there would be no possibility of mixing up the corpses lying within, or of mistakenly thinking that Jesus’ body had gone when it was one of the enshrouded bodies still lying there. Jesus’ body was the only one in the tomb, and they would easily be able to know that it was no longer there if the tomb should later prove to be empty” (337).

Finally, Jesus’ burial in Joseph’s tomb fulfills yet another prophecy found in the final “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah 53: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9a). Joseph, of Arimathea, being a member of the Sandhedrin, would have been wealthy. Therefore, although he had no way of knowing it, he was the rich man referred to in the prophecy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was some history TV show, as I recall, where they said that it was typical of a Jewish burial to wait the necessary time until after the body decomposed, and then the family (?) removed the bones to a (large) box, which the Jews "buried" with the rest of the family...or something along that line. Hard to know who to believe, but that was the host's interpretation of why Jesus' tomb was not the same place as the archeologically determined "graveyard". I think the topic needs more study ;-)