Today’s passage is Luke 23:50-24:12:
Jesus Is Buried
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man,51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold,two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words,9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
This passage about the resurrection focuses on Jesus’s followers as much as it does on Jesus himself. Luke’s Gospel, more succinctly than any of the others, outlines the social differences between Joseph of Arimathea and the women who discover the empty tomb, but praises all of them for their faith and willingness to follow Jesus. Because of this, Jesus’s resurrection is highlighted as the way to ultimately redeem the social brokenness caused by sin.
Joseph of Arimathea is in a position of social power, but risks his position to take the body of a condemned criminal for a proper burial. Joseph is on the Council that ultimately sentences Jesus to death, but refuses to stand for their ruling. Furthermore, the day Jesus is crucified, Joseph goes so far as to ask Pilate for his body, and buries him in an honorable manner—in a tomb “in which no one had yet been laid” (Luke 23:52). This is in great contrast to what might have happened: the body of our Lord might have been left on the cross, for the birds to peck and the bugs to gnaw. Pilate may have refused Joseph’s request—criminals could be refused burial—but, because Joseph is a respected member of the Council, he lets him take the body. Joseph uses his social power to advocate for proper treatment of a social outcast’s body, which sets the stage for the resurrection.
In contrast to Joseph, women had a subordinate role in Jewish society. While much could be written on this subject, most relevant to this story is the fact that the Marys, Joanna, and other women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb. Women’s testimony was not accepted in Jewish courts, and yet they are the first people who witness and share the most important event in Christian history. If the Lord did not care deeply about the disenfranchised, the angels at the tomb would not have appeared solely to women.
Indeed, Luke’s passage tells us that the listeners do not first believe the women’s claim, hinting that the gender of the news-bringers plays a role in this unbelief. The claim of resurrection is inherently difficult to believe, and elsewhere in the Gospels men doubt without the presence of women (Luke 24:37, John 20:24). However, in addition to the legal bias against women’s witness, male contemporaries saw women in general as unreliable witnesses particularly prone to religious hysteria. New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham points specifically to Luke’s Gospel as one where the revelation of women (Luke 1, for example) plays a central role, specifically to counter the social privilege accorded to men at the time. He states: “There is no doubt the apostles ought to have believed the women.”1
Luke’s framing of the narrative is clearly informed by the brokenness of the existing social hierarchies (see Luke 3, and then keep reading through the Gospel). This is because Jesus is deeply concerned about these issues; and in his life, he turns them upside down—because to God, every person has immense value. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus states: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus is Lord of both the disenfranchised and the enfranchised. In the context of the Gospel of Luke, with its heavy focus on the poor, ill, and social outcasts, it’s almost more surprising to see an upright rich man, than an upright formerly demon-possessed woman (Luke 8:2). In the context of Jewish society, it’s certainly more surprising to see Mary Magdalene as a witness. But Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, is the one who can reconcile and redeem social hierarchies.
This passage on the resurrection shows what happens to the social order when people follow Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea and the women (as evidenced by their encounter with the angels) believed in the coming Kingdom of God even before the resurrection. The women, without seeing Jesus, believe that he is risen. Their faith in Jesus as Lord should be an example to us, as should the fruits of their faith in action. Joseph goes against social norms, risking his position to defend Jesus, a convicted criminal, and then give him a proper burial. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna and the others (and Luke’s account) challenge the law and norms that view women as untrustworthy. Together, they provide an example of how rightly-ordered faith can break down social barriers in the service of Jesus—without the faith of both Joseph and the women, the resurrection could not have happened as it did.
Because of human sinfulness, social hierarchy injustice still exists—and often in parallel to the injustice in Jesus’s day. Sometimes it’s based on gender; in much of the world, women are still not taken seriously as witnesses.2 In many additional societies, structural and legal inequalities exist because of race, nationality, or status. It is not a stretch to think that if Jesus had died and been resurrected in the United States, the first witnesses might have been felons or undocumented immigrants.
The entire Gospel of Luke forces us to grapple with the injustice in our world—Jesus has not yet returned! However, lest we despair, Jesus is a paradigm for us, just as he was for Joseph and the women. Throughout the book of Luke, Jesus defies social norms to heal the sick, befriend the oppressed, and finally, lays down his life for the undeserving. Even more importantly, Jesus’s resurrection gives hope for the future and a redeemed world.
Because of Jesus’s ministry, Joseph of Arimathea, the two Marys, and Joanna could work together to bury him after the crucifixion. Because of Jesus’s power, the women at the tomb believed. The actors in this story (including the author, Luke!) have a faith both practical and future-focused—working in the present to follow God, but looking towards a world that has yet to come: a perfect world, free of sinful social injustice because we are saved by Jesus’s blood.
The most beautiful thing about the story—that which gives reason to the faith of the women, Joseph, and us—is what the angels at the tomb tell the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you . . . ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:5-7). Because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, they—and we—are saved from death.
Christ is risen indeed. Happy Easter.
Siobhan McDonough ’17 lives in Kirkland House and concentrates in Social Studies. She is editor-in-chief of the Ichthus.
- Bauckham, Richard. “The Women at the Tomb: The Credibility of their Story”. pp. 5, 7 http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Accessible/The%20Women%20&%20the%20Resurrection.pdf ↩
- Particularly in cases of sexual violence: notoriously the (thankfully now legally amended) Pakistani law that necessitated the testimony of 4 men before a case could be considered a rape. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6152520.stm ↩