The 6th century BC Greek story teller, Aesop, is known for his animal fables. Fortunately, animals change little from age to age, so what he said then is likely so now. One of his stories is about two animals: the tortoise and the hare, or, as we usually say, the turtle and the rabbit. They are known to have different rates of speed: the turtle is a plodding creature, while the rabbit is very quick. We would ordinarily not race them against one another. Yet, Aesop does so, and, in his account, the turtle won. The explanation for this, however, lay not in speed but in a mistake made by one of the competitors. While the turtle, known as a slow creature, predictably never varies his pace, the rabbit, despite his adroitness and quickness, was also quite unpredictable. The turtle won the race because, true to form, he maintained a steady rate of speed, while the rabbit, confident at the advantage he enjoyed, decided to interrupt the race, for a quick nap. The turtle bypassed him, reaching the finish line first and winning the race, to everyone’s surprise.
We celebrate the incredible victory of Jesus this Easter Day, over the dominance of death: Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Defeated by death only three days earlier, He overcame the conviction of all that the power of death had bested the dynamism of life, by rising in power and glory on Easter Day. This unheard of event required an extraordinary act of faith to believe and accept it. Jesus Christ Crucified had subdued the dominance of death. Alleluia!
There were no witnesses to the actual Resurrection. But there were witnesses shortly thereafter, in a series of appearances made by a newly arisen Risen Jesus to His followers, including the apostles, some of whom (at least John) had also witnessed the traumatizing death of Jesus on the Cross just three days earlier. They may have been part of the crowd of onlookers on Golgotha, mentioned by Luke (23.49), but, if so, remained unnamed. By way of contrast, there were two fellow-travelers (if not apostles) of Jesus, who were at the crucifixion scene, namely: Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus (Mt 27.57, Mk 15.43, Lk 23.50-54, Jn 19.38-42).
It is interesting that they were not present at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, as were the twelve, but they did show up at the end. True, Nicodemus engaged Jesus in conversation toward the beginning (Jn 3.1, ff.), but gave no evidence of becoming His follower at that time. He only emerged at the end, along with Joseph. But why did those who got off to such an early start in their discipleship of Jesus (that is, the twelve) apparently fade away at the end? Like Aesop’s fabled race between the hare and the tortoise, despite the rabbit’s early lead at the beginning of the race, both he and the apostles faded away at the end, while the slower, ponderous turtle, like the two who started late in their discipleship of Jesus, seemed to arrive first at the finish line. For Joseph and Nicodemus would prove to be reliable eyewitnesses of Jesus’ death on the cross, as well as of His burial, since they provided both the burial site for Jesus’ burial, as well as all the elements needed for His proper burial, according to Jewish custom. So they were to become indispensable witnesses that the One Who was to rise from the dead had indeed died and been buried.
So sometimes those who start strong early on, fade away, while those who initially hesitate may come on forcefully at the end, such as Joseph and Nicodemus, for whose witness we are grateful. They make an indispensable contribution to the saga of the Resurrection! We can learn from them that sometimes it is better to start slow, then come on strong, than to begin strong and then fade at the end.