July 7, 2011 - Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Joseph was treated unfairly. He was about 17 when he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He spent the next 12 years as a slave and in prison. He spent the next 9 years running Egypt’s branch of the IRS. Then his brothers show up, needing his help. How many times did he think, over the course of the years as a slave and the years in prison about that day, about confronting his brothers?

He toyed with his brothers: frightening them, putting them in prison, demanding that they go back to Canaan and bring him Benjamin. Benjamin of course is not only his full brother, rather than his half-brother, but he also would have been too young and was not there when Joseph was sold. If we read into the story, it seems that Joseph’s plan was to keep Benjamin in Egypt and never tell anyone else who he really was.

As we see today though, when he is told that his father has been grieving for him, his father who he had not seen for 22 years, he is no longer able to control himself. He had wept before to see his brothers, but now he was overtaken by uncontrollable sobs. Why? Because he thought that his father had never searched for him, had not cared so much after all. Perhaps he waited those first few years of slavery in hopes that his father would come rescue him. By now he had given up on his father, when suddenly he finds out that his father has, all this time, been grieving for him, had thought him dead.

Joseph had been treated unjustly by his brothers, and, all things considered, he can only be commended for ignoring them rather than having them tortured and executed. Once he had used them to get his little brother Benjamin, he was going to let them go back home with no penalty. But Joseph had treated his father unjustly. Certainly for ten years, perhaps before that time, he had had the power to let his father know that he was okay, but he never did.

He had made an assumption about his father. He was correct in considering the unfairness, the wickedness of his older brothers (although he did not know that even one of them, Rueben, while guilty of some things, had been largely innocent), but he was wrong to include his father in his just anger against his brothers due to his incorrect assumptions.

Joseph is not unique in this aspect. Making quick judgments about people based on faulty assumptions is something we are all guilty of. Based on what seems like enough information, we think we know someone’s motivations or what they ought to have done. Then we make things worse by acting as if our judgments are Gospel truth when they are wrong.

Not every father is an innocent as Jacob, who mourned the death of his son for 22 years, and not every son is as guilty as Joseph, who did not let his father know where he was for those 22 years, but all of us have relationships which have been cut off because, like Joseph, we have made assumptions, or, like Jacob, assumptions have been made about us. Reconciliation can only come about through humility. When all the Jacobs and all the Josephs stop waiting for the other person to come halfway, but, leaving pride entirely aside, they allow for the assumptions and seek forgiveness.