Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rejected, Betrayed, But Never Forgotten by God

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long tunic.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him… (His brothers) sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.  (Genesis 37:3-4, 28a)

Jesus said to them, (the chief priests and the elders of the people), “Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?’”  (Matthew 21:42)

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
(Psalm 51:12)

Today, the Scripture readings present us with juxtaposed tales of rejection and betrayal, the first seemingly a foreshadowing of the second.

In the first reading, from Genesis, we have the beginning of the long saga of Joseph’s life.  I can picture him, a gawky teenager on the cusp of manhood.  His father does him no favors by doting on him in full sight of his brothers, but Joseph, like many of us at that age, is oblivious to the effect on his siblings.  He happily wears his special tunic, basks in his father’s love, does his father’s bidding and tattles on the older brothers from time to time.  Not included in today’s verses is his artless recounting of a dream where his brothers were sheaves of wheat encircling him and bowing in submission to him. He probably should have kept that to himself.

When he went to be with his brothers in the pasture, I bet Joseph had no inkling that his charmed life was about to change.  In just a few minutes he went from being the cherished son of his father’s old age to an almost-victim of murder.  Fortunately, his brothers didn’t carry through on their plan to kill him, but they betrayed him, nevertheless, and sold him into slavery.  We know from our vantage point that God would take this tragic moment in Joseph’s life and work it into a story of saving grace, forgiveness and redemption, but all the young man knew at that moment was that he was being forcibly taken away from everyone and everything he had ever known.

Jesus, on the other hand, was very mindful of the effect his preaching, teaching and healing had on others.  Certainly he had many followers, but at this point, he knew any popularity only served to instill more fear and hatred into the chief priests and elders of his day.  They were out to get him and he knew eventually they would seize him.  Like Joseph’s brothers, they were jealous and threatened by his very existence. 

Jesus tells a parable/allegory about a vineyard.  God planted this vineyard and furnished it with everything one could need for living happily and making wine.  But somehow the inhabitants of the vineyard forgot that everything around them was a gift.  They began to act like they made the rules and ruled the roost.  They rejected anyone who came to claim any of the wine, including the prophets.  Finally, God sent his only Son, but they killed him, too.  These reckless vintners thought they had succeeded, but we know that God rolled away the stone from the tomb and revealed his glory in the Risen Christ.

Just as the people in Jesus’ parable did, we, too, live in a sort of vineyard of God’s making.   Everything I am and all that I have comes from God.  But when I use Lent as an opportunity to look at the quality of my Christian discipleship, I wonder if I’m really that much different from the tenants Jesus describes.  It’s so easy to slip into being the lord of my own little universe, to throw gratitude to the roadside and to take credit for all that God gives me and does for me.  I’m supposed to be laboring for God, but sometimes I forget that and work for myself.

Reading about young Joseph causes me to ask myself how mindful and caring am I when it comes to the people around me?  Joseph wasn’t a bad sort; he was simply oblivious to everyone but himself.  He never noticed how angry and jealous his brothers were becoming.  He took their brotherly love for granted, all the while continuing to fuel the fires of their hatred.  Am I going through life with blinders on, or am I loving and compassionate toward others?

What questions come to your mind when you read these two Scripture passages?  How is your Lent going so far?

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