From our first reading Reuben said ‘So now there comes a reckoning for his blood’(1).
Joseph’s brothers of which Reuben was one had seen ‘that their father loved him more than’ them so they ‘hated him’(2). This hatred once kindled likely grew over the years.
Then there comes an opportunity to rid themselves of this ‘dreamer’(3). And though he survives, Joseph is beaten and thrown into a pit, sold to the Ishmaelites and taken to Egypt.
There in a strange land he forges a new life. He grows in favour with Pharoah who puts him ‘over his (my) house’, so that ‘all his (my) people shall order themselves as Joseph (you) commands’(4).
It’s a remarkable reversal of fortune. But the story doesn’t end there. Joseph and the brothers who abandoned him are destined to be reunited.
And that’s where we pick up the story in our first reading this afternoon and in these my words, I want us to reflect a little on the emotions likely present in that reunion, and how they might speak to us today.
‘And they hated him.’ What was it about Joseph that drew such hatred from his brothers?
Was he just too good looking, too smart, too interesting, too perceptive, just too blooming good at everything!
Whatever it was, something of this sibling rivalry was rooted in jealousy. They were jealous of who Joseph was and the love his father had for him.
Jealousy of course isn’t something consigned to the annals of history. We too know something of it, of the jealousy that lies just beneath our often well-polished surface self.
Perhaps, like Joseph’s brothers we are jealous of the sibling for whom life always seems so much easier.
Or we are jealous of the colleague who always seems to get on.
Or we are jealous of the friend whose relationships seem so perfect.
Even the clergy, a vision of serenity I know, are not immune to being jealous of a colleague.
But back to Joseph and his brothers. Their jealousy had consumed them and the answer they think is to get rid of Joseph and then things would be better.
Perhaps sometimes, the memory of that day faded and they just got on with their lives. But on other days, I suspect most days there was that niggle. That discomforting memory of betrayal.
Of course the brothers might never have seen him again, but for a famine which brings them face to face with the brother whom they don’t recognise.
Joseph recognised them though, and though for him life had been transform at least outwardly, inwardly he carried a dreadful wound. He had been betrayed by those whom he thought loved him. Abandoned and sold to strangers.
Here again we find echoes from this story in our own lives. For though each of our stories is unique, most of us will know something of betrayal and abandonment. Perhaps when a relationship has ended, or when we have been let down by someone we trust and admire.
When Joseph is faced with his betrayers, perhaps a moment he had rehearsed over the years of separation he calls them spies and locks them away.
How often do we do that with the stuff in life we find difficult? Try and lock it away, or run away from that which we have done or left undone?
And yet if we are to live a life rooted in the freedom that God gives. If we are to be whole as people then at some stage we shall need to be reconciled with the wrong turns and failures of our lives.
In the story of Joseph and his brothers a new possibility emerges over time. He doesn’t kill or banish them. He locks them up and eventually, eventually a new space is opened up, a space where reconciliation is possible.
All these years on in this glorious Cathedral, where we have space and time to ponder the great mysteries of life. As we reflect on this ancient story that has a remarkable capacity to speak to us today, perhaps in our stories we are being invited into a new space of possibility.
For I believe that God doesn’t want us to live from the place of jealousy, regret, resentment and sorrow but from a place of love, hope, peace and new life.
But it’s not easy, life is complicated and can be difficult as St Paul knew well. Yet as he wrote in our Epistle ‘God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.’
Being reconciled is often a slow journey, taken step by step.
Trusting that through the faithfulness of God and through the glimpses of grace given to us daily. Glimpses through which we see new life and possibility opening up before us,
we are reminded that there is always hope of a new beginning, always hope of reconciliation.
What happened next for Joseph and his brothers? Well if you don’t know, go home and read it there are no spoilers here.
But I end with a question or two for you.
What of your story?
What of the jealousies and resentments you carry?
What of the wounds of abandonment you hold onto?
Is it time to trust that God might just be opening up a space in your life when you can let them go?
References [ + ]