Do What You Can

By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 15:40-47

40 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, 41 who followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him, and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 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. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead, and summoning the centurion he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 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 rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Meditation

Timing is everything, and in these brief verses relating to the crucifixion narrative, it is crucial. The Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Jesus died only a few hours before sundown on Friday, and it was against Jewish law to do physical work or to travel on the Sabbath. It was also against Jewish law to let a body remain exposed overnight (Deut. 21:23). An honored member of the Sanhedrin, but also a secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is aware that he occupies the difficult space created by the tension of his being a prominent member of the council who believes in Jesus, and the importance of having his Lord buried in accordance with Jewish law, lest the Romans remove it. Were this to happen, no Jews would be able to confirm Jesus’ death, and opponents would dispute his resurrection.

Yet Joseph “boldly” approaches Pilate to request Jesus’ body, placing both his reputation as a respected Sanhedrin, as well as his personal safety, on the line. He can take these risks, because he is waiting for the kingdom of God, where reputation is of no importance.

Whereas Joseph could appeal to Pilate, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses could do very little in Jesus’ defense. However, they did what they could, which was to bear witness at the cross and to follow Jesus’ body to the tomb, made available by Joseph of Arimathea. They did what they could using the opportunity they had and became the first ones to witness the resurrection.

Like Joseph and the women, we, too, should take advantage of the opportunities we have and do what we can for Christ, rather than worrying about what we cannot do.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, New York, she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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