Lazarus vs. Joseph of Arimathea

Today in Lent Madness action it’s a Biblical Blowout as Lazarus squares off against Joseph of Arimathea. Actually, we’re calling this one the Tomb Raider Rumble. So deal with it.

Yesterday, Andrew the Fisherman hooked Polycarp 72% to 28% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen where he’ll face Hyacinth.

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Lazarus of Bethany is familiar to us from the gospels – he appears in the Gospel of John as the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany – a beloved friend of Jesus who falls gravely ill and then dies towards the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Jesus, having fled Judea because of conflict with the local leadership, receives this news, and heads back to Bethany to console his grieving family. When Mary and Martha run to meet him, they remonstrate with him – Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And it is in response to this cry of the heart that Jesus declares, I am the resurrection and the life. They who believe in me will not die.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, amazing all in attendance (especially Martha, who correctly, if overly-practically, points out that because he had been dead four days, there would be a particular smell.) From there, tradition guides us. The Eastern Orthodox, who call Lazarus “The Four-Days Dead,” tell that he then flees from Judea, because of local plots to take his life. He heads then to Cyprus, to the town of Kition. Here he meets up with Barnabas and Paul, who make him the first bishop of Kition, and he serves well for over 30 years. They also contend that the Blessed Virgin Mary wove his special bishop robe for him herself, as a mark of respect.

Attesting to this legend, in 890 a tomb was found in the region with the inscription “Lazarus, friend of Christ.” The remains were disinterred and removed to Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

There is yet an alternate story, told by the French. In this tradition, following the resurrection of Christ, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were put adrift from the Judean coast in a boat without sails or oars, finally landing on the coast of southern France. They split up, going in different directions to preach the gospel. Lazarus goes to Marseilles and becomes bishop there. For this reason, the congregation at Autun claims to have his corporal remains, but the cathedral at Marseilles still claims to have his head.

Whichever tradition, Lazarus remains a testimony to the power of Christ over death, and the enduring power of the resurrection.

Collect for Lazarus
Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany: Open our hearts to love you, our ears to hear you, and our hands to welcome and serve you in others, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (GCW 2015)

Megan Castellan

Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea’s role in the death of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels; beyond that, we know nothing about him. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Joseph was from Arimathea, wealthy, and a disciple of Jesus. He asked Pilate for Jesus’s body, and Pilate had people give the body to Joseph. Joseph wrapped Jesus’s body in clean linen and put it in a new tomb that he had carved into a rock. He rolled a large stone in front of it and left Mary Magdalene and Mary watching the tomb.

In Mark’s gospel, we learn that Joseph of Arimathea was a council member. He wasn’t just a member; he was respected, which could explain how Joseph would have access to Pilate and why Pilate would grant his request. We also learn that Joseph was waiting for the kingdom of God, indicating his knowledge of Jesus’s teachings. Joseph went boldly to Pilate to request Jesus’s body, showing that while he was a respected member of the council, he was still taking a risk making this request. Mark tells us that when Joseph asked for Jesus’s body, Pilate had to check and see if Jesus was dead. We learn that Joseph took the body down from the cross, wrapped it in linen, and took it to the tomb. The rest of Mark’s gospel mirrors Matthew’s account. We don’t always get more information from Mark than from Matthew.

Luke leads with words about Joseph’s character by stating he was good and righteous and that although he was a council member, he disagreed with what they were doing. We learn that Arimathea is a Jewish town, and as in Mark, Luke tells us that Joseph was waiting for the kingdom of God. Luke clarifies that the tomb Joseph prepared was a new tomb where no other dead person had been laid. Luke does not name the women who followed Joseph on the day of Preparation, but they viewed and perhaps oversaw how Joseph laid Jesus’s body. Luke says that they returned to prepare spices and ointments, and observed the sabbath.

The gospel of John gets right to the heart of Joseph of Arimathea’s role as a secret disciple. John also says that after Pilate let Joseph take Jesus’s body, Nicodemus came with Joseph and brought one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. They prepared Jesus’s body according to the burial customs of the Jews. John says that the garden where Jesus was crucified also had a new tomb, and since it was the day of Preparation and time was of the essence, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus’s body there. Joseph of Arimathea’s brave and difficult actions are worthy of commemoration by the church each year on August 1.

Collect for Joseph of Arimathea

Merciful God, whose servant Joseph of Arimathea with reverence and godly fear prepared the body of our Lord and Savior for burial and laid it in his own tomb: Grant to us, your faithful people, grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Miriam Willard McKenney


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92 comments on “Lazarus vs. Joseph of Arimathea”

  1. The Lazarus story is part of an oral tradition explaining what happened to Jesus' disciples. Traditions in Cyprus and Southern France claim that people traveled there, spreading the good news. Did the Holy Maries of the Sea and their servant Sarah, and Lazarus, and Joseph, really float across the sea on a raft? Was the person who became a bishop early on really Lazarus? Was the woman who lived in a cave on the Sainte Baume mountain really Mary Magdalene? Does it matter? I vote for Lazarus, or someone like him, who carried Jesus' teachings from the Middle East to Southern France.

  2. Another reason for voting for Lazarus. Over the years there has been some controversy over whether the disciple John wrote the gospel with his name. The author is the disciple that Jesus loved. See John 11:3 where Martha calls Lazarus "he whom you love." There are other reasons to support Lazarus as the actual author of the fourth gospel.

  3. I admire John's limericks so much that I thought I'd write one for Lazarus:

    When Christ heard his dear friend was dead,
    He visited Lazarus' dead bed
    Called him up with a yell,
    In spite of the smell
    Alive again, he then broke bread

  4. Joseph is a model for me, combining faith, bravery and practical wisdom. His continuing membership in the Sanhedrin, secured the body of Jesus and thus made possible the visiting the tomb and witnessing the resurrection. He risked at any time, the exposure of his faith and expulsion from his position.

  5. I am, once again, in the minority. When I first saw the list of saints to be judged I immediate decided on Joseph of A without reading the backgrounds. He served and served well at the most dire time in Jesus’ ministry's. Then I read the biographies…..

    Both are very real events and people, unlike some alleged people or happenings in early Christianity, and equally worthy. I was more touched by the quiet and deep devotion of Lazarus and his sharing in a very personal way the resurrection. Lazarus served with his entire, body and said Thank You by founding several churches in what is now France and becoming a bishop.
    It was the Holy Sprite that brought Joseph to Jesus and, therefore, the final act that any person could perform for The Body. It was Jesus Himself that chose to wait until Lazarus was completely dead before bringing him back in order to show what was going to happen to him. The choice that Jesus made ranks higher for me.

  6. Wasn't it Joseph who bought the young Jesus to England, visiting Glastonbury, i.e., "And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon Englands mountains green: / And was the holy Lamb of God, / On England pleasant pastures seen!" I think I remember seeing his footprints on Glastonbury Tor. This Unitarian turned Anglican votes for Joseph!

  7. I voted for Lazarus because some recent scholarship is suggesting that Saint John's may have been corrupted by some pious monk in a scriptorum in the 12th cent. copying Papyrus 66, who in desiring to make the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John "agree" with the Gospel of Luke's story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This is "breaking news" in the world of manuscript research, but Nestle-Aland is having a look at the scholarship behind this research by Elizabeth Schrader, a doctoral student at Duke University in July. If true, it isn't "Martha" in John's gospel who is Lazarus, but none other than Mary Magdelin, who was getting a bad rap at the time.

  8. In The Chosen, one of the episodes shows that Jesus asked Lazarus to take Jesus' mother home with him and look after her because Jesus knew what was being planned against Him. He didn't want his mother to be collateral damage and felt that Bethany would be a safer place than Nazareth. I realize that wasn't stated in any of the Gospels, but then much of what we "know" about these two saints isn't either.

    I actually feel a little sorry for Lazarus. He will have to die a second time. It would be interesting to know what he experienced during those four days and whether he was happy about being raised from the dead. But that is just me and I have added those questions to my list to ask when I get there.

    There is actually another Lazarus named in the Bible who ended up in the bosom of Abraham.

  9. I am sorry there was not more said about the stories that swirl around Joseph of Arimithea. Of course most of them are legendary and fabulous but fascinating nevertheless. In the early writing known as "the Gospel of Micodemus" it is recounted how the authorities put Joseph in jail, from which he was rescued by the Risen Lord himself, who whisked him back to his house in Arimetha, put him in bed, kissed him, and told him to stay there for forty days. I love that story. Also, how about Joseph and the Holy Grail and a visit to Britain? Maybe these charming tales are being kept for later rounds. Anyway, he is a favorite of mine-- such an example of someone with wealth and power willing to risk it all for the Gospel.

  10. Lazarus was the only person actually named by Jesus in a parable: the one about the beggar and the rich man. We can imagine him being in the audience as Jesus winked at him during the telling.

  11. A difficult choice, especially since I want to know what Lazarus was doing while Martha was slaving in the kitchen... but I make my choice on an aesthetic factor. The Joseph of Arimathea chapel at the National Cathedral in Washington is an amazing place, tucked in between the four massive pillars one level below the crossing. It has a beautiful and haunting painting behind the altar of the procession carrying Jesus' body to the tomb.

    On the other hand, my own parish has (for some reason) a copy of Rembrandt's Raising of Lazarus, which is a painting I despise. It shows Jesus inside the tomb (the bible says he called Lazarus from outside the tomb), waiting his arm in the air like a magician while an elderly Lazarus floats up from the sarcophagus. There are weapons (a sword and a bow) hanging on the wall in the background. The painting makes no sense--and it's ugly, besides. (I hate to say that about Rembrandt, but he must have had an off day.)

    Mark one vote for Joseph of Arimathea.

  12. I am not wealthy by American standards; by global standards it's another story. I take perhaps more comfort than I should that the same gospels which give us the Magnificat and the Beatitudes also give us a few examples of wealthy disciples who managed to find their way through the eye of the needle. Thanks, Joseph of A!

  13. I am wondering about the sentence "t rest of Mark’s gospel mirrors Matthew’s account. We don’t always get more information from Mark than from Matthew.
    The nuance does not reflect the historical idea that Mark was written prior to Matthew

  14. Joseph reminds me of the faithful today who have courage to do what is right despite the threat of grievous harm. May all of us who walk in Christ be bold amidst the false teachings that are raging among us.

  15. This verification business is sometimes very difficult. My eyesight is not good. Sometimes the photos are so faint and blurred I can't tell if the thing I'm supposed to check is there. It rather takes the fun of Lent Madness away. I'm sorry.
    Jan Curtis

  16. My vote for Lazarus was due to the legend he served as a bishop for 30 years after being raised from death by Jesus. He was a close friend of Jesus, and an intimate of Jesus's mission. He gives credence to Jesus words - "I am the resurrection and the life. They who believe in me will not die."
    If the legend is accurate, he helped build the kingdom of God on earth.

    Joseph was a godly man that was helpful post-Jesus crucifixion by providing a tomb, but then leaves the gospels. While helpful, does not spread the Christian message of "good news".

  17. Boy this one is hard. They both are so important and had such close contact with Jesus. Any particular reason for putting them "against" each other? --)) I went for Joseph since he had such an important role in the burial. And he touched and wrapped his body. wow.

  18. I am knowingly tanking an entire bracket with my vote for Joseph; I had Lazarus going on to the next round on my Saintly Scorecard. However, I agree with those who point out that Joseph took action, and an action he did not have to take and which would have been unusual, if not risky. It's Joseph for me today.

  19. Normally I'm not much swayed by the apocryphal or legendary aspects of the saints, but since my nephew and his family will soon be going to Marseille to begin working with a church there, Lazarus won my vote today. I've often wondered about his life after his miraculous restoration - what was it like to come back to this life after having a glimpse of the afterlife? Seems like he'd always feel a bit homesick until he finally returned to his heavenly home.(BTW, I double-checked through my avalanche of daily emails, but I never found yesterday's pairing.)

  20. This one was an impossible to choose!! Both men, in their respective ways, showed Christ to us!

  21. I had to ponder for a while, and take in other people's thoughts. But Joseph of Arimathea is a hero for our time. In honor of blessed Aleksei Navalny, and of all those who at great personal risk straighten their spines and stand up, and follow their moral compasses in their words, votes, and actions, I voted for Joseph the Mensch.

  22. Whilst I love the accounts of Jesus' relationship with Martha and Lazarus (and the recent research that suggests Mary may be a late addition to John's gospel) my vote goes to Joseph who, when he thought all must be lost and Jesus dead, risked his reputation to care for Jesus' body and offer him a decent burial.

  23. Picking a winner from today's round was difficult, Joseph prevailed for me because of the challenging, dangerous labor of love he performed in retrieving Jesus from the cross and placing Him in the tomb. Lazarus' led an honorable life after being 'returned' in the service of our Lord.

  24. Both men gave wonderful service to Jesus. I voted for Lazarus because I truly believe he was raised up out of death by our Lord