“And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.” (Luke 23:50-52, KJV)
The first word of advice to newly-elected Pope Francis came from a fellow bishop, Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil: “Don’t forget the poor.”
Joseph of Arimathaea, whom history kindly remembers for giving Jesus a decent burial in a tomb that had never before been used (yes, tombs were “recycled”), is to be emulated because he remembered a poor Jesus as he “waited for the kingdom of God.”
Joseph had at least one encounter with Jesus: He was a member of the religious council that had put Jesus on trial. However, Joseph did not agree with the council’s conclusions, nor with its decision to press the Romans for Jesus’ death. Whether this was Joseph’s only encounter with Jesus, or whether Joseph had also heard Him teach in the synagogue, or had heard Him preach in the villages, I do not know. But scripture is clear that Joseph was a good and just man, who “waited for the kingdom of God.”
We can surmise that Joseph was a man of money and influence, since poor people in those days didn’t own tombs; and inconsequential people weren’t given audiences with high government officials like Pilate. On the other hand, on that Good Friday, Jesus was the poorest of the poor: His clothing — taken; His disciples — absent; His dignity — surrendered; His good name — sullied; His body — broken; His life — gone.
Most people are very uncomfortable with the poverty of others, as if it were contagious. Joseph of Arimathaea was not afraid. As he waited for the kingdom of God, Joseph did good by not forgetting the poor. Whether a pope or a pedestrian on the highway of life, there is no higher office than “servant of the poor.” As we do to the least of these — the poor — we do to Jesus. – Luther