Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent member of the Jewish council who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Boldly, Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. After confirming with a Roman officer, that Jesus was dead, Pilate released Jesus’s body to Joseph. Along with Nicodemus, Joseph took Jesus’s body from the cross. They wrapped the body in linen stripes and 75 pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. The Jewish burial custom of using spices in burial linens was associated with covering the smell of the decaying body. Scholars suggested that because aloe had little odor, aloes were used to “fix,” or hold the scent of the myrrh. Based on my knowledge of aloe plants, I have another proposed reason for aloes in the linen grave cloths. Aloe gel is moist and slightly sticky. Perhaps, aloe gel didn’t so much “fix” the myrrh aroma in the linen cloths as hold them together and onto the body of the deceased.
The aloe of the New Testament is the Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis, Aloe vulgaris medicinal aloe). Some sources identified aloe as the oldest medicinal plant. Certainly, it figures prominently in ancient Egyptian medicine. In Israel, aloe grows as far south as Kibbutzim Lotan and Ketura in the Arava Desert near the Gulf of Aqaba. Old and New Testament aloe are from different species of plants. In contrast to New Testament aloe which is an herbaceous plant, Old Testament aloe comes from a tree. The Old Testament aloe tree was the eaglewood tree (Aquilaria malaccensis, A. agallocha). Likely, Old Testament traders brought aloe wood from India.
Currently, aloe is used to reduce the pain of burns and scrapes. When aloe is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested because they contain more gel. I keep an aloe plant in my home. When I get a burn, I slice off a piece of aloe and rub the fluid on the burn, which takes the pain away.
Isaiah wrote these prophetic words about Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53.5 ESV) Jesus’s body was dead; therefore, aloes couldn’t heal him; aloes couldn’t take away the sting of his death. Aloe couldn’t heal Jesus’s wounds. The healing aloes in Jesus’s burial cloth exemplified Jesus’s healing of mankind, not himself.
After Jesus’s resurrection some individuals in Judea and the Roman Empire accepted healing from him. They accepted Jesus as Messiah, as the promised Savior of the world. Other individuals weren’t willing to be healed. Some couldn’t comprehend that a man would die for their sins. Others simply didn’t believe that they were all that bad; why would someone need to die for their few sins? For still others it was easier to continue their same religious observances, i.e., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into a treasury, than to accept a new way of thinking. These individuals often want to cover over the smell of their sin rather than be healed of that sin. The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2,000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today.
In church on Sunday morning, we pray the “Prayers of the People.” Frequently, there are prayer requests for healing – surgery, diagnostic tests, cancer – from members of the congregation. I’m always surprised that congregates don’t offer more prayers for loved ones’ spiritual healing. My dear friend isn’t a Christian; I love him so much. From time to time, I ask congregates to pray that he comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus. I really should ask them to pray for him every Sunday. My friend needs the healing that only Jesus can give.
Reflection: Like the reason for aloe in Jesus’s burial cloths, do you attempt to stick close to Jesus? What excuse do you give for not accepting Jesus as your Savior now?
Copyright July 8, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth