For a famous book the Bible isn’t very well read today and I include myself. Even the easy or user-friendly New Testament is neither scrutinised nor memorised in the way the Jews familiarised themselves with their writings. How many modern Christians for example are familiar with the young man that ran away naked, leaving the guards holding his bed sheet? Why is he even mentioned? If he was mentioned as a witness, why no name? Was he perhaps mentioned for comic relief, in such a serious moment? Or was he a shadow of another young man who would soon be left naked with guards holding onto his garments? I have my own issues with the Bible (and it’s people), but I also discover and rediscover inspiration at unlikely times an in unlikely sections. I struggle to fathom that something smart was written so long ago.
I am sitting in rural Mozambique, in a hut where a rat kept us up the whole night. We are inside Parque Naçional do Limpopo (PNL), an extension of Kruger. Rural Moz, sometimes seems to be 100 years behind South Africa. 100 years is a long time, so the effects of 2000 years on a story, context or concept seems beyond my grasp. This morning I am intrigued by another marginal figure on the periphery of the Gospels. The periphery of the Good News being an interesting concept in it’s own right. We all drift in and out of the story. Peter for example, who got the revelation of the Kingdom and cut of ears is the same guy that ‘followed at a safe distance’, same guy that denied and wept. Even the Kingdom heroes seem tainted or fake. But let’s get back to the peripheral figure that grabbed my attention this morning…
At school, I was good and naïve; assuming that is possible. In Grade 12, when I was head-boy I cared deeply about my ‘job’ and I can remember how often in anger and disillusionment I wanted to ‘give in my badge’. I often fantasised about the moral integrity of quitting from an unjust system or walking away from a group without integrity. And indeed I’ve ‘given in my badge’ on many occasions in my life, at times it is what we have to do; especially when our minds have not caught up with our hearts. I have walked away from jobs and out of conversations many times. But indignation and statements in abstract solidarity does not always bring the peace and justice we imagine. I think it is easier to train the mind than it is to train the heart, so I will never be harsh on anyone who needs to ‘run from a lion’ or create space between their aspirations and temptations. We have to protect our convictions while we have them I guess.
When reading about Jesus’ last days in Mark, we quickly see how shit the religious leaders of the day were. Allow me the grace to infuse my contempt with a bit of Mzansi flavour: It’s easy to note the conniving, spiteful and useless batch of Gupta-like, EFF behaving, Zuma-led and apartheid inspired Jewish Council (Sanhedrin). I mention all the associations South Afrians won’t like in 2017 to highlight what a bunch of bad apples this little broederbond was. They bloody killed God’s Son! How bad do you have to be to take out the ‘94 Madiba in such a public and disrespectful manner? If I was member of the Jewish Council I would have handed in my badge a long time ago. At worst I would have walked out when I realised they were about to kill the King.
2000 years ago however, I was not even in Heerde, Holland yet. There was no Schalk, nobody to hand in a badge. Who was there though, was a guy called Joseph. Not the famous Joseph who got a kid without getting lucky; another Joseph. Joseph of Arimathia. A peripheral figure in the Gospel story. Obviously important in that his request ensured a verification of the death of Christ, fulfilled a prophecy about the Messiah’s tomb and important for giving a dignified burial to the person who deserved it more than anyone else.
Joseph of Arimathia, like the book of Mark in general makes a quick, strong statement. Plain and simple: a bit of info, a bit of action and a bit of effect. I take encouragement form Joseph of Arimathia, and if I were to ever establish an order of The Arimathians I would base five founding principles on this short account in Mark 15 (also considering the other Gospel variations).
1. Sacrifice: Joseph not only used his money to buy a linen shroud, he gave his own grave. He gave time to attend the body of the dead. Without giving time and things nobody can be part of any story. Joseph had bucks, apparently, but Joseph knew about sacrificial giving.
2. Living expectantly awaiting the Kingdom of God: He did not sulk and blame when JC died, when things didn’t pan out the way everyone expected, his convictions were activated and his expectation transformed into duty. His expectation made him courageous and he included others like his chommie Nic. We cannot expect the KoG as a one man show.
3. Respected amidst the rot: Pravin Gordhan was fired, he did not walk out. We now know how big the gap between him and JZ was, but Pravin stayed and served the country amidst a box of rotten apples. Joseph of Arimathia stayed in the Jewish Council, although it must have driven him up the walls. Not only did he stay, he was respected.
4. Secrecy: Joseph of Arimathea did not perform and talk on the public platform when Barabas was released. Joseph’s contribution was done behind the scenes, he contributed to the unspectacular, away from the stage and attention. He bought burial cloths and no PR company was hired to profile his good deed. (Yet here I sit in PNL 200 years later blogging about him)
5. Joseph of Arimathea (J.A.) cared for Jesus’s body. An Order of Arimatheans would care for the body of Christ. Today, the body of Christ is the church. Not only did Jay Ay (J.A.) stay in the Jewish Council, he cared for the body of Christ. It is plain to see how I make the link between the actions of Jay Ay, and me (or us) faced with a decision to stay in or get in the NGK and FGK in particular.
Today the Jewish Council and the Body of Christ is often the same thing- a thing in desperate need of Arimatheans willing to care in sacrifice, secrecy, expectation and resilience.
I am left with the question: is caring for the Body of Jesus a calling or a duty?