11 July 2007 Memorial of St. Benedict, Abbott
Gen 41, 55-7; 42, 5-7, 17-24: Joseph
The first reading is one of the most touching and dramatic stories in the Bible: the story of Joseph. Joseph was the first born of Jacob and Rachel. He easily became the favorite of Jacob and the cause of his brothers’s envy. He was sold to Egypt by his brothers. In Egypt, he found himself at the service of Potiphar, Pharoah’s eunuch and captain of the royal bodyguards. A great manager of his household, he was favored by his master and became the object of passion by the lady of the house. He was then falsely accused of adultery, and sent to prison. Because he was skilled in interpreting dreams, he was able to read the dreams that disturbed the Pharoah. With the Pharoah’s authority, he became the keeper of the royal seal, second only to the throne. He married Aseneth, the daughter of an Egyptian priest, and had two sons, Ephraim and Manasses. He then managed the whole project of storing grain to prepare for the seven years of famine as he predicted.
His family came to him during the seven years of famine. As governor, his brothers knelt before him, their faces on the ground, asking for grain. This is the fulfillment of Joseph’s dream, the very same dream that moved his brothers to sell him to Egypt. His brothers did not recognize Joseph in his stately stature; but Joseph recognized them as he saw them. Concealing his identity, he gave them the grain they needed, confined one of them in Egypt, and requested Benjamin to be brought to him as testimony of their honesty. Upon Benjamin’s appearance in Egypt, Joseph invited them to feast at his own home and seated them according to their age, and provided his youngest brother with greater food as a sign of distinction. Eventually, Joseph then tested his brothers by putting his divining cup in Benjamin’s sack. Upon discovery, the brothers returned in anguish to Joseph’s house. Judah pleaded for mercy, and offered himself in place of Benjamin whom their father loved. It was here that Joseph disclosed himself and invited Jacob and his whole family to settle in Egypt.
Some short insights. First, the sons of Joseph have certain meaning in Hebrew. Manasseh means ‘to forgive/forget’ and Ephraim means ‘twice fruitful’. Joseph must have placed memories in his sons’ names. With Manasseh, he would forgive and forget the sins of his brothers, the abandonment and loneliness in Egypt, the ‘Mrs. Potiphars’ in his life, the years in the dungeon and many other sufferings he endured. With Ephraim, he would remember that after all these sufferings, God has granted him many blessings twice over.
Perhaps, with us, we may consider why we have been less fruitful. Maybe we have been bogged down by our hurts in the past, that these hurts have hindered us from being more fruitful.
Second, the brothers in the first reading were bothered by their guilt and their conscience. And the first step towards resolution is to admit the responsibility of the things they had done. The brothers did not blame Jacob and his favoritism. They did not point a finger at young and arrogant Joseph that led them to sell him. They did not justify their sins, attributing it to their psychological immaturity. The brothers just admitted their sins.
Joseph remains to this day one of the most beautiful characters in the Bible. Joseph and Jesus were both favored sons. They were recognized and exalted only after undergoing a series of humiliations and sufferings; but their sufferings brought salvation to those who caused them pain. But most importantly, Joseph and Jesus taught us the solution to strained relationships: forgiveness.
When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers resurrected their fears that Joseph would avenge their ill-treatment of him. But Joseph calmed their dread and assured them of his love.