Praying for Perspective: Seeing oneself more like Joseph of Arimathea

When thinking about what Joseph wrestled with on that long-ago Good Friday, the question comes: Can we do more?

By George Valadie

Take a minute, think back, it wasn’t that long ago really— try to recall where you were at noon on Good Friday?

Though some were lucky enough to have the day off, my guess is that most were likely at work, doing what you do, doing what needs to be done for the people who count on you.

Sacrificing in some way—small or large—for the loved ones who get to live and love because you are faithful to your job.

Two thousand years ago, that’s exactly what He was doing.

Working. Doing the job He had been sent to do. Doing what needed to be done. A lot more sacrifice than yours or mine to be sure, but, like you, faithful to the ones He loved so they could live … forever.

Faithful to the ones He loves—present tense.

The story is one we know so well, probably too well, if there is such a thing. We’ve heard it so many times, not to mention recently, but it can be easy to forget just how hard it was to do what He did.

Just as well known are the stories of Peter and Pilate and Judas.

In the simplest of terms, each of them had a really bad day.

Each was well aware of the right thing to do. Each was given more than one chance to get it right.

But none of them could stand up to the pressure they felt raining down on their heads. They went “0-for-3,” in today’s lingo.

I struggle to condemn them, however, when I know I’ve given in to public pressure myself. On more occasions than I care to admit.

Remembering one’s whereabouts isn’t all that tough a question, really. But what if I had asked, “What would YOU have done had YOU been there?”

I wonder about me all the time.

I so desperately want to believe I would have made a better showing than those three. But I’m never quite sure.

How many times have we followers of Christ been faced with an opportunity to speak up in his name? But the words didn’t come out just right … or at all.

How many times have the dinner-with-friends jokes been a little too inappropriate?

How many times has the parking lot gossip been nothing more than just that?

How many times have the social media posts cried out for a full-throated response but have been left unanswered because we know millions— literally—are watching?

And judging.

The act of dying a martyr’s death hasn’t completely disappeared from the planet, but it’s a lot less fashionable than it used to be. And to be honest, I’m pretty thrilled about that, though I’ve not yet been confronted with a true life-and-death choice that required me to be a defender of my faith. “Deny Him or die!” so to speak. But I think about what I’d do, how I’d handle the pressure.

And more often than not I’m embarrassed knowing full well that I’d probably walk away alive—afraid and weak—but alive.

Still, hypocritical as it surely must sound, I just don’t ever view myself as the failures that those three were that day. Peter, Pilate, Judas.

All in all, I see myself more like Joseph of Arimathea.

We don’t know a lot about him, but most Gospel accounts tell us that he, too, was part of the council that strategized Christ’s death.

Luke described him as a “virtuous and righteous man” who, “though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan.”

There we go, now that’s more like me, never the willing participant, but not likely to throw myself in front of the train either. Knowing what’s right. Hoping that’s enough.

Pretty sure it’s not.

John’s account is a slightly more critical depiction of Joseph. He described him as being “secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews.” I’ve walked that same silent path before, too, afraid of going public myself. Except I’m not sure who I was afraid of, except for others’ opinions. How sad is that!

Silent or not, fearful or not, you have to give the guy his due, though.

On a day when people seemed to be in a killing mood, Joseph stepped up and asked for the body. He asked for the privilege of burying the one man who had inspired this near-riot.

To his credit, it was the gutsiest move of the day—on a day that’s remembered more for its lack of guts.

Growing up, I always thought of Joseph of Arimathea as the hero in this story. He came to the aid of a grief-stricken family knowing the grief he would likely get in return.

But late at night, when left to talk with no one but himself, you know he had to have wrestled with the question: “Could he have done more?”

Which leads to our final question: Can we do more?

Oh, we all know the answer. We all know we can. We all know we should. We all just need to begin.

If not that Friday, how about today? How about now?

Dear God—It’s a scary place out there trying to be like you. But it’s even scarier trying to tell people about you. If you forgive them their cowardice, then there’s hope for me. Amen.

 

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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