Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'Fessing up to what we have done, and left undone

This morning's OT reading:
Genesis 45:16-28 (NRSV)

When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’ You are further charged to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”

The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons according to the instruction of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. To each one of them he gave a set of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. To his father he sent the following: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Do not quarrel along the way.” So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”

When I was a kid, and I read this story, I felt like screaming to everyone: "Don't do it! You'll end up enslaved! Make sure you've got an escape route planned!" But of course, in this story, there is a larger plan that is being fulfilled.

And then, I always wondered about those half-brothers of Joseph. Did they ever confess to their father their role in the loss of Joseph, or did they really just act surprised that Joseph was alive, as if it was a completely unexpected miracle? What kind of a burden must that be to keep such a secret? And no matter how sorry one is for one's actions, until one owns up to them and takes responsibility for them, they will have a terrible power over the rest of one's life. Were they ever able to admit to themselves, much less to Jacob, their responsibility for Joseph's disappearance-- even once the danger of starvation was removed from them?

Really, it's hard to understand these men. They would have rather their father have thought a child torn to pieces by animals than grow up and get over their jealousy over their father's favoritism. They could have used the opportunity to admit to their father what they had done.They might have risked disinheritance, I suppose.

Joseph had them pegged, though. "Do not quarrel along the way," he admonishes them. "Don't be jealous because I gave the one brother who didn't sell me into slavery more than you. Don't fight among yourselves, since you have proven yourself so prone to it already." Joseph models wisdom and forgiveness in the face of injustice. He ended up being able to save his family, and for him, that made all his losses and suffering worthwhile.

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