I’ve always been fascinated by who remained, following the crucifixion of Jesus, to attend to his body and provide for his burial (see Mark 15:42-47). Contrary to what most of us would have expected, it wasn’t Peter or John or James or any of the disciples.
There is tremendous irony in the fact that the only people left to care for the body of Jesus were two Pharisees who had kept silent because of their fear, together with a small group of women. Where are the disciples? Where are those who loudly proclaimed their love and loyalty? They are nowhere to be found. But what we do find is that a handful who once lived in the shadows and remained silent, now step forward in remarkable courage and boldness.
If one looks at the disciples only on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, and passes judgment on the reality of their faith based on how they acted then, the conclusion might be that they did not truly love him. But we would be wrong!
If one looks at Joseph and Nicodemus at any time during the course of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and passes judgment on the reality of their faith based on how they acted then, the conclusion might be that they did not truly love him. But we would be wrong!
The faith of the disciples quickly gave place to fear, whereas the fear of Joseph and Nicodemus quickly gave place to faith. The commitment of the disciples momentarily turned to cowardice, and the cowardice of Joseph and Nicodemus eventually turned to courage. Perhaps the important lesson for us to learn is to be slow to pass judgment on the state of another’s soul. Time will tell.
Let us also not overlook that these were not merely men. Joseph and Nicodemus were Pharisees! Think of all those whom Jesus had set free from a variety of conditions: lepers, paralytics, the demonized. Yet here are two men who appeared respectable, who looked to be successful, who were highly regarded and honored in public. These men were delivered from their own sort of bondage and slavery: religion. Jesus saved prostitutes. Jesus cleansed lepers. Jesus raised dead people back to life. Jesus restored sight to the blind. Jesus brought forgiveness to tax collectors. But nothing he did can quite compare with the way in which he set free those trapped in religion.
Think about all that Jesus had said to the Pharisees, the names and descriptive terms he had used of them: Hypocrites! Blind guides! White-washed tombs! Brood of vipers!
Over time, by the grace of almighty God, Joseph and Nicodemus came to see the truth of what he said. They had grown weary of the religious rules and the oppressive regulations and unbearable burdens and impossible expectations that religion imposed on the human soul. They had grown weary of the endless hours of arguing over meaningless details in their religious traditions. Their eyes had been opened and they saw Jesus for who he really was: the man who is God!