The scene that unfolds for us in the Book of Genesis today is one of the most poignant and moving in this first book of the Hebrew Scriptures. The eldest of the sons of Jacob speaks for his father and for his brothers before Joseph, the son who had been sold into slavery by his brothers. The passage for today’s liturgy speaks of the reconciliation that Joseph initiates through his request that they return to him with Benjamin, his youngest brother. The grief that Jacob has endured after losing his son Joseph and the thought of possibly losing Benjamin is all revealed through Judah. Joseph is unable to listen without being moved to tears himself, for he has also been gripped by grief over the loss of his father and his family through the treachery of his brothers. Once Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers, they are frightened that he might take revenge upon them for their treacherous plot brought on by their jealousy. However, they all are eventually reconciled when Joseph makes it clear that he has no intention of harming them or in causing his father any more grief.
Once again, it must be pointed out that this is a shortened version of the entire story. Not only are some of the events which lead up to this scene omitted, Judah’s speech is also shortened. It is clear that the person who framed the lectionary reading is asking us to concentrate on the resolution of the story; namely, the reconciliation that is initiated by Joseph which eventually results in a reunion with his father and brothers. Joseph tells us in unvarnished terms why he is moved to reconciliation as he has come to understand that the suffering that he has been forced to endure is all part of a grand design: “But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you."
Here again we can put these very words into the mouth of Jesus in explaining the betrayal and treachery that resulted in his passion, death and crucifixion. It is all part of God’s plan. Truth be told, it took the early Church and the disciples years to come to understand that Jesus’ death was all part of God’s plan. They are used to thinking in terms of the theology of reciprocity; namely, do good and receive good in return; do evil and receive evil in return. However, while that may seem fair in human terms, it is not necessarily fair in terms of God’s actions. Taken in those terms of reference, we would all be doomed; for we are all sinners, all guilty of wrong-doing. God’s mercy is at work here even though it seems to have been effected in very circuitous terms.
As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we do so aware of two things. We are called to be reconciled with God through the admission of our sins just as Judah has confessed all to his brother. Secondly, we are called to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters after the example of Joseph who reminds the guilty parties that he is their brother. When we eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord, we take onto ourselves this dual imperative. This is why we always pray those important words before receiving the Eucharist, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive. . . “
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator