JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
NW POETRY PRESENTS
"Joseph of Arimathea,
"How a Secret Follower Became a Public Witness:
A Vignette of a Rich Man," by Eben
On the far eastern shore of the Mediterranean, the Roman-ruled province of Judaea sets uneasily between Egypt and Syria, the land being a troublesome backwater of the Roman Empire where religion matters far more than civilization and Roman peace. But certain events here have come to a head high up in the mountain-girt religious center of Jerusalem, circa 30 A.D., ruled by the Romans, with puppet-king Herods governing Galilee and various other parts of Palestine, and Pontius Pilate serving Rome as governor of Judaea under the Syrian Governor. As thousands of evening cookfires are lit and smoke and aromas of mealtime waft over the huddled houses of the common people as well as the palaces of the rich and the ruling classes, it is still very tense in the Holy City of the Jews, with the threat of insurrection and a brutal Roman reaction lingering like a dark cloud over the entire city, poisoning the atmosphere. What has caused the dangerous situation? Rabbi Jesus! He is the "Pretender" Messiah, called an imposter and deceiver by the leading religious authorities, and has just has been put to death. After three years of public ministry of preaching and miracles that roused up the masses to a feverish state of anticipation among people who wondered if the miracle-working Nazarene rabbi wasn't the one to deliver them from the Romans, he has finally been apprehended, charged, sentenced, and newly executed on a Roman cross, mighty Rome bowing to the rage and demands of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They are the leading factions of the highest religious court of the Jews, the Sanhedrin council, its strings pulled by the corrupt, old power broker Annas through the largely figurehead high priest, his son-in-law Caiaphas. With the Nazarene's death, his popular movement has seemingly been destroyed, for he is gone and his disciples, mostly all from Galilee, have fled into hiding even while he is still hanging on the cross. Clearly, it is no time to proclaim yourself sympathetic to the dead pretender and his discredited cause. Their nerves tingling due to the many irregularities of the court trials of Jesus and the real threat of a mass uprising of the people against the Temple authorities, the high priest and his temple armed guards in league with Procurator Pontius Pilate and his squadrons of soldiers are closely watching things and are poised to crush the slightest sign of support swiftly and brutally. Yet, even now, there exist certain supporters outside the band of eleven disciples (the twelfth is dead, a suicide, after betraying his master to the high priest's arresting guards). One is secretly a follower, high-placed, indeed, being a member of the very court that sentenced Jesus to death for blasphemy. He has been observing the crucifixion from a discreet distance. Now that Jesus shows signs of having died and a soldier has pierced his side with a spear, it is time to act, he decides...
Resolute to make repair,
Joseph waited at a gate.
Roman sentries eyed him there;
How odd to see a Jew that late!
Message to the governor--
"Give me, sir, the dead Jesus!"--
Found slow answer at that door
But stubborn heart grown conscienceless.
"He is dead? 'Tis strange, how soon!"
Thought the Roman in delay.
Then his wife, she came to him:
"Release the man! Release, I say!"
Pilate sent his message down:
"Galilean? You can take!
Bury him in land or town,
But trouble me no more his sake!"
Joseph hurried at a run,
Met a man who shared his word--
"Israel's Glory is God's Son,
The Same we slew because we erred!
"Nation gripped by blood-stained hands,
Rome and Herod now hold sway;
Who can break apart their bands?
For all who try live but a day!
"Heathen masters we obey,
Yet our chief priests are vice prone;
Greed and Power block God's way,
As widows gnaw upon a bone.
"Justice flies away and hides,
Face ashamed to see our state;
Murder laughs and holds his sides,
As Law and Crime take each to mate.
"John first rose and spoke the Word:
'Straight and true now make thy road;
Poor defend and naked gird!'--
His preaching struck us like a goad.
"Six months only did he preach.
Herod took and cut him down;
That will happen soon to each,
Whene'er a prophet comes around!
"Then compounded we our sin,
Jesus next was scorned and slain;
Who can weigh our guilt within?
For He was truly without blame."
Resolute to make repair,
Joseph shed both tears and pride,
Gate of God lay broken there,
As priests and people danced outside.
"Come, my friend, he said to him.
"Help me set a part back up;
Wolves, they enter at a whim,
And tear the lambs all while we sup."
Nicodemus bore his gift--
Myrrh and aloes, linen shroud--
Hundred-weight, he felt a lift
Where his own shoulder deeply bowed.
Widows, orphans, and the lame
Gathered dung upon their backs;
Joseph heard them bless his name,
For he had paid their temple tax.
Down and up, across the town,
Nicodemus, Joseph led;
Empty, drear, the windows round
All gaped as sockets in skull head.
Skull Hill at last they came,
Place where men were crucified.
Soldiers finished up their game.
The winner held a robe red dyed.
Soldiers brought the slain Lamb down;
Joseph's eyes shut tight with shame;
Hands o'er mouths to make no sound
As both men sealed up their blame.
Riches, rank, now meant nothing.
The Council where they sat was wrong;
Money, fame, they'd gladly fling
Than live without their Lord life-long.
Close by lay a garden tomb;
There they put the body wrapped;
It was new, a clean stone room--
Isaiah's prophecy so apt.
Last of all, the stone they rolled,
Great in size, it closed the door;
Sabbath came, so dark, so cold,
A day that seemed with doom to pour.
Joseph waited in his home.
His life forfeit, so he thought:
"Old men should not run or roam,
But greet death as they ought."
Sunday dawned, he was alive!
Earth had shook and then lay still;
Murder fled, a gang of five
Too fearful made to seize and kill.
"God has spared me violence,
Swords and daggers passed o'er me!
He's my soul's own sure defense,
He cast down all the enemy!
Thanking God, he left his gate,
Thanksgiving vow upon his mind;
Templeward, he turned too late
As angels followed close behind.
Joseph heard a shofar sound;
He looked and, lo, the Dead walked free,
Loosed of grave, their souls unbound,
A resurrection plain to see!
Joseph found the Risen Son
Who burst the Gates of Death and Hell!
Disciples preached what Christ had done,
And Joseph too, he went to tell.
'Twas said he sailed to isles far,
the same today called Great Britain;
Amazing Grace thus crossed the bar,
and made full saints first in that land.
As the scripture says in Isaiah 53: "He made his grave with the wicked [two thieves were executed with him], and with the rich [Joseph of Arimathea's tomb] in his death." A tradition says that Joseph, made bold by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His appearance to him and many other followers and disciples, journeyed to Gloucester, Cornwall of Britain, as an apostle proclaiming the Gate of Grace was opened to all sinners, Jew, Greek, or barbarian, through Jesus Christ. Certainly, Gloucester was one of the very earliest centers of Christianity in the British Isles.
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