The Final Test – Held on Sunday, March 23, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 03/23/14

  1. A Comment on Jacob’s Blessing: Gen. 43:14
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 44: 01 – 34
  4. Discussion

A Comment on Jacob’s Blessing: Gen. 43:14

As we worked our way through chapter 43, one word caught my attention that we did not pay sufficient attention to.  I thought a comment about that one word was warranted.  In v. 14 we read, ”May God Almighty grant you mercy

At first I wanted to find out what the word “mercy” might mean to us.  The English word “mercy” is not one that is used often in common speech.  It does resonate in the Liturgy, however.  As an essential element in the Penitential rite, twice our refrain repeats the priest’s: Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy, Christ have mercy.

But what does that one word mean. I asked the study group if they use “mercy” in everyday speech.  Heber spontaneous said, “Mercy be.”  When I asked him what that phrase meant, he said he didn’t know.  Ken remarked that the only usage that comes to mind occurs in movie scenes; usually someone who has done wrong is standing in front of a person of authority; for example, a king or a judge, and the character says have mercy on me.

Here we have one of the most foundational words in the Jewish scripture woven into our liturgy but have no clear understanding of what it might mean.  The word mercy is one English translation of the Hebrew word “chesed.”  The opening of paragraph in this article reads

Biblical scholars have often complained that the word חֶסֶד [chesed] in the Hebrew Bible is difficult to translate into English, because it really has no precise equivalent in our language. English versions usually try to represent it with such words as “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “steadfast love,” and sometimes “loyalty,” but the full meaning of the word cannot be conveyed without an explanation, such as the one given in the article below. This article, by Norman H. Snaith, is reproduced from A Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson (New York: MacMillan, 1951), pp. 136-7.

I would encourage your reading of the article in the link provided above.  For Christians the fulfillment of YHWH’s chesed is in Christ Jesus.  At the end of the article you will find a list of verses in which the word occurs.  Jacob’s blessing meant so much to the Israelite people who knew the utter significance of God’s steadfast love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, etc.  No one word can hold what only a history of a people can tell.

So one word, six paragraphs above and a reference to an article with 5 more paragraphs. Reading all of the above can move us to hear and say so much as we repeat, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.  Meaningless or filled with meaning.  It’s up to you.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 44: 01 – 34.

The Final Test … Joseph sets his brothers up one final time in order to learn not that they say they are honest men but rather that they act like honest men.  Words matter but only if they are illuminated by deeds.  The brothers head back to Canaan loaded with food. That they know.  In their sacks too is the money they thought they had given in exchange for the food.  In Benjamin’s sack, the silver cup, Joseph’s cup of divinization.  None of this do the brothers know.  Joseph knows.  The story teller knows so his audience knows and so do we know.

The brothers have been driven by guilt to hide their shame.  They hide it from their father.  They hide it from “the man.”  The father doesn’t know.  “The man” knows.  The listener / reader of the story knows.

When the money and the cup are revealed before their eyes, not a word only torn clothes.  [So too Caiaphas when he hears Jesus blaspheme.]  The brothers return, Judah becomes the spokesperson for the brothers and the family, for Israel.  Judah, Judeans, Jews the story teller and the story’s audiences.  Spoken in faith for the sake of faith.

Reading: Gen. 44: 01 – 34


I read from the New Revised Standard Version while the study group read along in the New American Bible.  Two different versions that are not exactly the same translation of the sources, mostly Greek.  My goal was to allow the study group to experience the different translations.  It sort of worked but sort of backfired as well.  As Ken remarked, he began reading as I was reading the chapter.  The differences between his reading and my reading were so confusing that Ken decided he better just listen.  This does allow us to experience revelation not as words but as meaning.  To discover the meaning begins with words, are limited by words, but meaning ultimately is the correct answers to questions.  What is the meaning of the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, etc.

We covered so much.  Again I want to focus attention on two points that came out of our search for meaning.  In response to the question, well what was the test, Tim responded with what I think was exactly the meaning of the Final Test.  Would the brothers treat Benjamin in the same way as they had treated Joseph?  By the end of the chapter we know that they didn’t.  Judah spoke out, committing himself to be true to the pledge he had given his father, in vv. 32 – 33

 Besides, I, your servant, have guaranteed the boy’s safety for my father by saying, ‘If I fail to bring him back to you, father, I will bear the blame before you forever.’d33So now let me, your servant, remain in place of the boy as the slave of my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.

 We then entered in a long discussion, did the brothers through Judah also come clean on their guilt.  I thought that they did.  Ken would have given Judah a B on his test; Judah was completely open with “the man, [Joseph].  Kai felt the expression of guilt in v. 16

Judah replied: “What can we say to my lord? How can we plead or how try to prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt.* Here we are, then, the slaves of my lord—the rest of us no less than the one in whose possession the goblet was found.”

 referred only to the discovery of the cup.  For Kai, it’s not in the text in any way, shape or form in terms of the guilt involved with their treatment of Joseph.

So what was our author telling us?  Please remember that the meaning of the text is ultimately a correct answer to a question.  One advantage of listening to a recording of the conversation a couple of days later is it gives me a chance to think.

Here is why I think that Judah, on behalf of his brothers and before God, was acknowledging their guilt.

  1. In the middle of v. 16 we read “God has uncovered your servants’ guilt . . .*” as translated in the New American Bible – The Catholic Study Bible with the * pointing to a footnote which reads, “44:16: Guilt: in trying to do away with Joseph when he was young.”
  2. The only reference to God in the Judah’s speech
  3. “servants’ guilt” is plural
  4. “God has found out the guilt of your servants . . .” which expresses more clearly in my opinion that Judah is acknowledging that God knows what they have done.

So, if you have read so far, let us know what you think.

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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