“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children because he was the son of his old age” (Gen. 37:3). Fratricide was love’s outcome, or nearly so. “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him” (Gen. 37:11). The favored child, Joseph, did little to blunt his brothers’ hatred, giving “a bad report of them to their father” (Gen. 37:2). So, the brothers conspired to kill him, but after Reuben intervened to spare his life, they instead sold Joseph into slavery.
Family values, then as now, are complicated; love and hate have often kissed each other. From the mess of human lives and the dysfunction of human families, however, some good may come. God will do what God will do.
Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites, or, according to another tradition, kidnapped by Midianite traders. Eventually, he was sold again in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. In Egypt, he rose to prominence in his master’s house, but then, refusing the advances of his master’s wife and accused by her of rape, he was handed over and shackled in prison. In time, however, he was set free because of his power to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. He thus was given renewed power and prestige, being second only to Pharaoh throughout Egypt. The culmination of the story was Joseph’s reunion with his father and brothers, whom he saved from starvation and forgave from the heart. “He kissed his brothers and wept upon them” (Gen. 45:15). His brothers did evil, but God brought forth good.
How do we human beings stay together? What binds us despite our pettiness, envy, malice, and hatred? What brings Joseph to his father and brothers again, and what holds them together? St. Augustine, addressing the question of how the Catholic Church of his day ought to behave toward another Christian denomination, a group church historians call “Donatist,” insisted that this “family dispute” could not break a deeper bond in Christ. “They will not cease to be our brothers and sisters until they cease saying Pater Noster.” Then he said: “Pour out the marrow of your love (medulas caritatis vestrae) to God for them” (Exposition of Psalm 32:29). This love is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Only in the movement and flow of this love do we find each other most deeply as members of the same family. We are held together by a chain of love.
Although human families and communities are frail, they have, we dare to believe, the capacity for unity in the love which God is. This union in love is, of course, something more than goodwill and shared values and common interest. God reaches the whole human family, creating, recreating, sanctifying, and leading all to a renewed temporal good and eternal glory.
God’s saving power, however, extends not only to persons but also to all created beings, visible and invisible. The creation itself groans with eager longing for redemption because nature itself, in some sense, is disordered. The disciples out in a boat “battered by the waves” experience both nature’s fury and a metaphor for human life amid trial and tribulation. Jesus comes out to them, walking on the water. Peter joins him. Seeing the strong wind and becoming afraid, Peter sinks. Jesus extends his hand. “He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of the mighty waters” (Ps. 18:16). Jesus is the mighty hand that rescues not from the storm, but in the midst of it.
A chain of love connects us, and a firm hand saves us.
Look It Up: Read Matthew 14:31.
Think About It: Jesus caught him.