St. Joseph of Arimathea — A Holy Member of the Sanhedrin

The Memorial of St. Joseph of Arimathea is Aug. 31

Pietro Perugino, “The Lamentation of Christ” (detail), 1495
Pietro Perugino, “The Lamentation of Christ” (detail), 1495 (photo: Public Domain)

When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. ―Mark 15:42–43

Rich, distinguished, courageous, virtuous, and righteous are words used in the Gospels to describe Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph of Arimathea was actually a member of the Sanhedrin―the council or court that condemned Jesus. Some assert that the roots of the Sanhedrin go all the way back to the time of Moses (Numbers 11:16–25); its role was to uphold Jewish laws. Joseph lived the way a Sanhedrin member was supposed to: as an earnest seeker of truth―a virtue that brought him to believe in all Jesus stood for. However, Joseph feared ostracism from his fellow council members and so initially kept his following of Jesus a secret.

However, when the Sanhedrin met about and denounced Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea expressed an opposition to their stand:

Though he was a member of the council, [Joseph] had not consented to their plan of action.—Luke 23:50b–51a

Then, when Jesus was nonetheless led to Pilate and then crucified, it was Joseph of Arimathea who boldly made the official request to take away the dead body, showing a clear and much more obvious love for Christ.

Jesus’s death occurred on a Friday afternoon, making the Sabbath just a few hours away. Joseph, with the help of St. Nicodemus (also Aug. 31), was forced to quickly tend to the basic needs of a burial. Fortunately, he happened to have a tomb already prepared, recently carved into some nearby limestone. Some historians suggest that it might well have been prepared for Joseph himself. So, rather than hastily tossing the body of Jesus into a common grave, Joseph carefully wrapped the body in a linen shroud and reverently placed it into this fresh tomb.

Although there is no further mention of him in the Bible, through these few recorded acts, Joseph of Arimathea offers inspiration and encouragement to sometimes risk painful disapproval in order to do the will of God.


Six Days with St. Joseph of Arimathea

The Memorial of St. Joseph of Arimathea is Aug. 31 (formerly March 17), and he is the patron of undertakers and pallbearers. Below are six passages to prayerfully read and ponder, to get to know this saintly Sanhedrin Council member better.

  • Day 1) John 11:47–48
  • Day 2) Matthew 26:57–59
  • Day 3) Matthew 27:57–61
  • Day 4) Mark 15:42–47
  • Day 5) Luke 23:50–54
  • Day 6) John 19:38–42