Joseph Meets His Brothers – Held on Sunday, March 02, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 03/02/14

  1. Posting Note
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 42: 01 – 38
  4. Discussion

Posting Note

There will not be a Scripture Study on Sunday, March 9 so the next post following this one [03/02/14] will be no later than Friday, March 21st.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 42: 01 – 38.

We began as we have for the past four weeks reviewing Walter Brueggemann’s schema.  The previous three chapters [39 – 41] depict Joseph’s rise to power but form the necessary backdrop to the next three chapters [41 – 44] which tells the story of Joseph and his family.

Brueggemann is of the opinion that the initial setting for the composition of the Joseph story is around the time of Solomon, that is, 1000 – 931 BC.  However, its final redaction probably occurred in the post exilic period around the last quarter of the 6th century BC.  The more that we can imagine the audiences of the narrator the richer the story he is telling becomes.  It also helps to keep in mind the final outcome of the story itself.  The God of the Israelites is the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But the Israelites owe a great deal to the story of Joseph in which the promise moves from individuals ultimately to a nation, from Egypt [symbol of slavery and oppression] to Canaan, the Promise Land.  When we think then of the post exilic period, the audience listens to this story in terms of a longing, a return from exile to the promise land not in the hands of foreign rule but under the rule of YHWH, their God.  Hundreds of years later, this longing is the climate in which Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Throughout the story there is what is hidden to some but known to others.  A few examples might prompt us to look for others.  The brothers don’t recognize Joseph but Joseph recognized them and obviously therefore, the listeners, readers know both what Joseph knows and the brothers don’t.  There is the dream that the brothers are unwittingly fulfilling in their very actions that Joseph now knows and so do the audiences down through time.  God is at work beyond the knowing and the not knowing; so too is God acting in our time but with a radical difference.  We hear all of this within the consciousness of the Christ event.  It is that consciousness that both enriches our hearing but it also can darken it.  What matters is first to strive to hear the story in its full symbolic manner.  That is what we attempted in our reading of it.

Reading: Gen. 42: 01 – 38


After reading the entire chapter I asked those gathered what stood out for them. Ken pointed out how the brothers were driven by their senses of guilt.  Guilt leads to lies.  Even as they profess that they are honest men before Joseph they are lying.  When they retell their story to their father, they are lying.  But it not just them, it is their guilt that is not owned that lays hidden which is then covered up by their lying.  The story reveals this dynamic that is part not just of Joseph’s brothers but for all of human life.

Heber pointed out that Joseph was paying his brothers back for what they had done to him but not as harshly as they had treated him.  The brothers threw him in a cistern from which he could not escape.  They sold him into slavery.  They lied about what they had done.  From then to now in the story their actions have shaped their understanding and talking about God.

Faryl pointed out the irony in the story.  If the brothers had not treated Joseph as they did, the famine would have occurred anyhow but there would not have been a Joseph to manage the famine both Egypt and for them.

I asked the question, what does this aspect of the story tell us of God’s actions?  For Ken God can [I think does] turn turmoil around for good.  This is where the cross of Christ leaps across the years.  Jesus is treated as we treat anyone who is dangerous, who wants to redefine who we are and what we are to become; challenges our sacred symbols that define us.

The role of Benjamin reminded Tim of events that are happening in his own life.  Favoritism exists, Heber reminded us not just in the family, but in most institutions, in schools, in the work place, etc.  But for Rosemarie the favoritism is more a matter of favoring those who think as we do, value what we value.  We favor those who are like us.

Although time was running out, we returned to the first five verses and reread them.  I noted that the story teller, writer is a person who believes.  He is writing to his community of believers but they don’t believe in the same fashion as the story teller, writer.  Rather he is attempting in the story to reshape their believing, to support their believing.

Ken picked up on this as he focused on verse 5, “And so the sons of Israel were among those who came to buy grain, since there was famine in the land of Canaan.”  Is the author thinking of the sons of Jacob but with his name changed?  Is he thinking of the nation of Israel?  For Ken, the author had both references in mind.  I couldn’t agree more.  In this one word change we can uncover the symbolic nature of the listening audience.  They hear both and more because they heard the story in the context of their own struggles, their own yearnings.  We actually do the same.  What we are attempting to achieve, though in our scripture study, is to know that is what we are doing and to know it in the concrete of our lives and compare or contrast what it means to us and what it meant to them.  This is our journey.

Tim wondered how Joseph felt when he met his brothers.  He recognized them right away.  When they bowed down before him, Joseph realized that his dream was coming true right before his eyes.  As the story progress Joseph reveals his conflicted emotions.  The biblical stories are powerful precisely because they capture our struggles, our conflicted emotions and they talk about this life we live in the context of God.

Joseph despite his conflicted emotions, wanted to see Benjamin, wanted to “test” the integrity of his brothers, wanted to bring the true story out in the open.  This testing reminded Ken of the Lord’s Prayer in which we ask God not to put us to the test.  Tim felt that Joseph wanted his brothers to admit they were in the wrong.  I thought immediately of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Why do we have to tell our sins to the priest?; so that we can own them.  The very difficulty in telling someone our sins reveals the nature of guilt and its power.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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