DOES MATTHEW CONSIDER GOING BACK TO TAX-COLLECTING NOW THAT JESUS HAD DIED ON THE CROSS?
“At the moment of the death of Jesus the land around Jerusalem was shaken by an earthquake. In the convulsions of the earth many of the tombs of the dead were opened. St Matthew reports that the bodies of many of the saints came forth and appeared in Jerusalem. The centurions in charge of the Roman soldiers was struck by these wonderful happenings and cried out, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God’ (Mark 15:39).
THE WORSHIP OF THE ONE TRUE GOD IS NOW OPEN TO EVERYONE
At the same time the veil of the Temple was rent in the middle from top to bottom. Whether this veil be the one in place before the sanctuary or the inner veil placed before the Holy of Holies, in either case it is possible to see in the rending of the veil a symbol of the fact that the worship of the one true God was now open to everyone.
THE WORK OF SALVATION HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED NOW
The earthquake and the rending of the veil of the Temple were divine signs of the work of salvation accomplished by Jesus. God may have worked them directly Himself, or He may have used natural causes. The earthquake may have been due to the laws of nature and the veil may have been torn by the strong wind that dispels the black sirocco which covered Jerusalem at this time of the year. But, if natural causes were operative in this instance, the timing was providential, due to God’s infinite knowledge and power.
THE NEW PASCHAL LAMB
Meanwhile the leaders of the Jews were afraid that Jesus and the two thieved might not die in time for the bodies to be removed from the crosses before the Sabbath day began at sunset. They asked permission of Pilate to have the legs of the three condemned men broken to hasten their death. The permission was granted. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves. But when they came to Jesus they saw that He was already dead. To make sure of this one of the soldiers opened the side of Jesus with a lance. Blood and water came out of the wound. St John points out that this was done so that two prophecies might be fulfilled in Jesus.
In the book of Exodus (12:46) the Israelites were ordered not to break any of the bones of the Paschal Lamb. On the Cross the bones of Jesus were not broken.
The prophet Zacharias [Zechariah], in a Messianic passage, had said in the name of God: ‘And I will pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of prayers: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced’ (Zacharias 12:12).
Thus, in the Crucifixion of Jesus St John sees the new Paschal Lamb, Whose bones are not broken, and the God of Israel, Whose flesh is pierced and perceived as pierced by His people. It might be mentioned also that Christian thought has always looked on the blood and water that flowed from the side of Jesus as symbols of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Baptism through which the power of the Cross for salvation comes to men.
JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA AND NICODEMUS SHOW THEMSELVES PUBLICLY AS DISCIPLES OF JESUS
Meanwhile Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and a member of the Sanhedrin, a man who had come to love Jesus, went to Pilate and asked permission to take the Body of Jesus down from the Cross and give it an honourable burial. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead. He sent a centurion to make certain of the death of Jesus. When he had been officially informed of the death of Jesus he gave permission for the burial.
Joseph went to the Cross with Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin. Joseph carried linen cloths to wrap the Body of Jesus. Nicodemus brought with him about one hundred pounds of spices to perfume the Body and the tomb. At Calvary the Body was reverently lowered from the Cross and washed. Then it was transported to the tomb where it was wrapped in the cloths and the spices. After the burial Joseph, Nicodemus and the women who had accompanied them withdrew. A large stone had been rolled in place before the entrance to the tomb. The women who loved Jesus intended to return to the tomb on the day after the Sabbath with more spices and ointments to give the Body of Jesus a more fitting burial.
THE PRIESTS AND PHARISEES TAKE PRECAUTIONS
The following day – the Sabbath – the priests and the Pharisees remembered that Jesus had said that He would rise from the tomb on the third day after His death. They were afraid that the Apostles might steal the Body of Jesus and spread the false report that Jesus had risen as He had foretold. They went to Pilate and asked that a guard might be placed at the tomb to prevent such a trick. Pilate gave them a guard and they went and sealed the stone at the entrance to the tomb and set the guard to watch.
WHERE ARE THE APOSTLES?
The Gospels do not tell us what the followers of Jesus did from Friday evening until Sunday morning. The Apostles, generally, seemed to have stayed in the upper room where they had celebrated the Paschal feast with Jesus. St John may have taken Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the home of some friends at Jerusalem. We may also imagine that the faithful women who had followed Jesus also stayed at the home of friends.
The hearts of all of them must have been filled with inexpressible sadness. Mary, His mother, no doubt retained her faith in Him. But her heart also will have been filled with grief at the violence of His passing. The others, even though they loved Him, must have been bewildered. The great teacher they had known, the kind wonderworker, Him Whom they had taken for the Messias, He was suddenly and ignominiously dead. With Him their own hopes must have died. Like people who wait forlornly for a lost opportunity they waited at Jerusalem, held there together by a common loss and emptiness.
The Apostles had expected to take part in the prosecution of a great cause. Now they had nothing to do. In a while perhaps the fishermen would return to their nets. And St Matthew, would he become again a tax-gatherer?” [To be continued at Easter]
- Martin J. Healy, S.T.D., 1959