Growing up as a child of the 70s the meaning of the notion of difference was learned by repeatedly viewing a bit on Sesame Street called “One of these things” or “One of these kids.” A visual like the one below paired with a catchy jingle shaped the perception of differences as the audience happily sang along.
“Three of these kids belong together
Three of these kids are kind of the same
But one of these kids is doing her own thing
Now it's time to play our game.”
In one rendition three of the kids featured are right side up and one is clearly upside down. Contrast is noted as the state of being of an upside down girl with braided pigtails differs strikingly from the other three right side up children positioned closely to her.
In literature contrast is any difference between two or more tangible or abstract entities, such as characters, settings, opinions, tones, and so on. In Matthew’s gospel account we observe the literary use of contrast as the author showcases two groups of people in the scene immediately following the death of Jesus highlighting distinct differences between the two parties.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. Matthew 27:57-66
Joseph, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary represent one group of characters in stark contrast to the religious elite identified as Chief priests and the Pharisees.
Taking time to sit with the text by approaching the moment as spiritual steeping, much like enjoying a cup of tea, our awareness is raised as we observe details. Settling in we make observations by reading slowly, reading aloud, reading repeatedly and reading reflectively. Through such strategy we gain awareness and therefore meaning.
Striking characteristics defining the very nature of discipleship rise out of the actions of the first set of actors on the scene. Joseph boldly approaches the authority figure, Pilate, to gain the body of Jesus demonstrating an expression of honor and reverence and integrity. The presence of the women illumines a willing posture of patience, love and care. Notable leadership is in play here as these disciples engage a terribly conflicted situation by adapting, taking initiative and doing it all well.
Their behavior in contrast to the second set of characters draws attention to their unique and effective way of human relating. The disciples’ behavior resembles techniques like those taught by leadership experts Heifetz and Linsky. In the bestselling Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading these authors teach skills for navigating challenges. If we could get into the mind of these first disciples we may find brilliance related to planning strategically. It is easy to imagine these individuals helped others survive the crisis by their ability to adjust perspective after witnessing the brutal execution and loss of their leader.
It’s easy to wonder if these three realized the deep significance of their participation in the burial scene while facing very real risk, fear and conflict. Had they engaged in diagnostic work to see what was happening in the situation? Did these courageous people practice stepping back from the crisis to gain perspective? Did they as Heifetz & Linsky suggest adjust themselves to see a bigger picture of what is going on and then set out with an action plan? 
Contrasting characteristics grossly opposed to the way of these disciples are noted in the actions of the presence of the religious representatives. The chief priests and Pharisees approach Pilate with interest in the body of Jesus, but their actions demonstrate a contrary disposition. They bring with them a willful posture of control and an air of deceit, suspicion and paranoia. These men are distinctly different from followers of Jesus.
The active faith of the Joseph, Mary Magdalene & the other Mary depict qualities God is looking for in those devoted to Jesus. The lives of disciples ought to “pop” in contrast to those around them. Frost & Hirsh identify quality discipleship in their book The Faith of Leap. They view faith as more an act of courage than an act of knowledge.  True disciples of Jesus are brave. Stepping out the way Joseph, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did after the crucifixion of Jesus was very dangerous. They actively risked themselves as they demonstrated belief and illuminated the worth of staking life on the promises of God.
 Ronald Heifetz & Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line (Boston, MA, 2007)
 Michael Frost, & Alan Hirsch. Faith of Leap (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2011), 81
About the Contributor
AmeriCorps VISTA and DMIn student at ATS
This week's Sponsor