Luke 23:50-56

Luke 23:50-56  -  Jesus’ Body is Buried

50 There was a man named Joseph,
a member of the Sanhedrin,
an authentic and just man
51 who had not taken part in their decision or their action.
He came from the town of Arimathea in Judea.
He looked forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Nothing else is known in the tradition about Joseph. Luke did not call him a disciple, though he conceded that he was an authentic and just man who looked forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom  Given Jesus’ brief time in Jerusalem, Joseph had probably not had time to make significant contact with him, though, as member of the Sanhedrin, he would no doubt have heard about some of Jesus’ activities in Galilee.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin had been brief and without significant personal detail. Though he had used generalities when referring to the council, it was now apparent that not everyone was unanimous. Joseph was no doubt aware of their decision, but Luke commented that he had not taken part in their plan and action. Either he had kept silence, or his dissent had been disregarded.

52 He approached Pilate
and requested the body of Jesus.
53 He took down the body
and wrapped it in linen cloth,
and placed it in a monument hewn into rock
in which no one was yet lying.
54 It was Preparation Day,
and the Sabbath was drawing on.

Normally, the bodies of crucified victims were left hanging on their crosses, sometimes to be eventually devoured by marauding dogs and birds of prey. Their bodies belonged to the civil authority, and were kept in a common area. Friends or relatives were not able to access the bones. Pilate’s agreement to Joseph’s request was abnormal.

Joseph’s treatment of Jesus’ body was hardly adequate. Possibly the imminent onset of the Sabbath meant that he had no time to acquire the spices that would normally be used to embalm the dead. He may have intended to complete the embalming when the Sabbath was over.

Burials in the vicinity of Jerusalem were usually in tombs hewn from the surrounding rocky areas outside the walls of the city.

Why Luke made the point that no body had previously been laid in the tomb is not obvious.

55 The women who had accompanied him
and helped him in Galilee,
saw clearly the monument and where the body had been placed.
56 They went back home
and prepared the spices and perfumes.

The women evidently waited around for some time after Jesus’ death, not knowing what would happen. When Joseph returned to the scene after having obtained permission from Pilate to bury the body of Jesus, they followed the proceedings and clearly saw the monument where the body was eventually laid. Nothing was said of the unidentified male acquaintances, if any, present at the crucifixion, who may well have left the scene some time earlier, after the death.

Luke had referred earlier in his narrative to women from Galilee who had provided for Jesus and the other disciples out of their own means. On that occasion he had mentioned certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and illnesses, Mary called the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chusa, Susanna and a number of others who provided for them all from their own resources (8:2-3).

They continued their role of service, even after the death of Jesus, preparing spices and perfumes that they could apply as soon as the Sabbath was over. Obviously they were not anticipating any resurrection on the third day. 

... On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Apparently the tradition knew nothing about what happened with the disciples immediately following Jesus’ death. Did the twelve stay together? and, if so, Where? What about the other acquaintances who had observed his death? Did they stay together, in contact with the twelve? Were the women disciples in a separate group, or with their husbands, or with the twelve? If they gathered together, where did they do so?

Luke said that they rested. None of them expected resurrection, at least in any short term. Jesus had simply been executed by the authorities. His promises of a Kingdom had evaporated. Nothing had happened. Their hopes and dreams collapsed.

Breakdown as Way to Breakthrough

Luke had made much of the disciples’ “way to Jerusalem”, seeing it as a process of ever-greater enlightenment as they in fact made the journey into their inner selves. They had been encouraged indeed to die to themselves. Until now they had never really known what that might involve.

Spiritually, their world fell apart: they were without faith, without hope, and with little energy to love. Their experience was one of virtual psychological breakdown.

This outcome was, perhaps, a not-unexpected consequence of pursuing the way to Jerusalem. Jesus had faced something similar during his inner struggle on the Mount of Olives – with the twelve oblivious to its depth and totally out of touch. Now the experience overwhelmed them. 

Judas may have reached the same point of breakdown before them. His dreams had evaporated; his hopes had turned to bitterness. His love had failed the test; he totally lost faith in Jesus, his message, and his person. Indeed he saw Jesus as enemy, the one who had betrayed Judas’s future before Judas chose to betray him.

The outcome of the “way to Jerusalem” was ambivalent.  Judas broke. The other disciples could see no way through. Yet Jesus had led them this way. He had told them what lay ahead. He had taught them to be aware of their inner resources and to draw close to the God present in their depths.

Yet all that takes time. Breakdown seems to be part of the journey, a necessary prerequisite if breakthrough is to happen. From the experience of worthlessness and powerlessness, with little energy or incentive to hope or to trust, the deepest desires of the heart, perhaps all that seems still to survive, can gently stir; and the cry to God for help can ring out from the truest, deepest recesses of the broken, contrite spirit.

Next >> Luke 24:1-12