“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
I think about this passage a lot. Whenever I’m out in public with nothing much else on my mind, or I’ve got nothing else but people-watching to do, I often think about this passage and imagine what the world, or even just my personal circle of family and friends, would be like if we could see each other as the face of God. Today we commemorate Joseph of Arimathaea who is famous for seeing the humanity of someone who was very different from him in almost every way.
Joseph is one of the few people who is mentioned in every Gospel and he is mentioned in the Gospels for the same reason: he provided a burial for Jesus. We know almost nothing about him. He was a Judean, pharisee, wealthy, and was a follower of Jesus. That’s all. He and Jesus were from different areas of the county, grew up with different religious traditions, and were from different social and economic classes. Sure, Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but why provide him a burial? Perhaps he was fulfilling a religious duty, also called performing a mitzvah. In Judaism of both Jesus’ day and today it is a mitzvah to bury the dead, but what made him think to do it? Why not someone else?
I think Joseph did this mitzvah, this good deed, because he took seriously the idea that we are all made in God’s image. He shows us what the world could look like if we all saw the intrinsic dignity of all people, especially in those most different from ourselves. Jesus was crucified, the most visible and shameful form of execution in the Roman Empire. Jesus was condemned as a traitor to the state and to be associated with him in any way, including just burying him, would have constituted a huge social risk; it could have even gotten one killed. But Joseph sees that it is more important to care for Jesus, to do the good deed, even at risk to himself and his position.
We commemorate and celebrate the Saints not because they were perfect, but because they shine forth God’s radiant love and make the world brighter. Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, “The kingdom of God has come near you” or an alternate translation, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Either way God’s reign is not far from us, and in fact, it shines in the face of each and every person, even when it can be hard to see. Joseph gives us a big example of seeing God in those who are different from us and we give thanks to God for his example, but there are a hundred chances each day for each one of us to see God’s image and bring the kingdom into the world. Will we chose to see God’s face today? Where will we let God’s light shine?