I was reading something the other day which caught my attention. It was about Joseph of Arimathea, who is mentioned in all four gospel accounts (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42).
Nicodemus, who is first mentioned in John 3:1-21, was also with Joseph of Arimathea when they took down Jesus’ body from the cross he had been executed on.
Both men were in positions of power, and it was actually indicated in Matthew and Luke’s account that Joseph was a “secret disciple” of Jesus. Since this much was said about Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus was with Joseph to help with the burial of Jesus, it would seem reasonable to conclude that Nicodemus was also a “secret disciple.”
I have continued to read commentaries on the idea of “secret disciples” and have noticed a trend in many of them. A larger percentage of the writers of these commentaries suggest, if not outright praise, the idea that there is a great benefit to being a “secret disciple.” One writer said that people in a position of power or influence would “have a lot to lose” if they were to confess publicly that they were followers of Jesus.
Well, that would seem to directly go against pretty much all that Jesus taught, especially what he taught about forsaking wealth and positions of power. For example, what about this teaching in Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Or what about this one: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25).
It astonishes me to see what lengths people will go to in order to avoid Jesus’ clear and direct teachings. If we fear being ridiculed, persecuted, or losing our jobs, how would we ever be willing to die for our faith? Wouldn’t it be so much more of a testimony of faith if Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus had been crucified themselves for “going public” with their faith in Jesus? Who knows, maybe this actually DID happen, but people who want to argue for “secret discipleship” love the fact that nothing more is said about either one of these guys, so they can then they can create clever doctrines of holding onto their wealth, their power, and their respectability in the eyes of the world.
It’s a bit like what is described in Luke 21:1-4, commonly referred to as “The Widow’s Offering.” As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Jesus praised the widow for giving all she had, and showed disdain for the “charity” of the rich. People who often express all the great things that rich people do for the good of humanity tend to overlook a number of Jesus’ teachings about money. This is understandable if you don’t profess to be a follower of Jesus. But if you do claim to be a follower of Jesus, then you have to face some very uncomfortable truths that will definitely challenge your own lifestyle with regards to accumulating wealth.
How about we not look for loopholes to keep us from trying to practice what Jesus taught? If we place of hope in following the example of Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus, then we are making a bet that what little we know of them is enough to excuse ourselves from doing what Jesus said. With so much else He had to say about the subject of money and possessions, it looks like a losing bet.