The Readings for Wednesday in the 13th week Tempus per Annum (C1)
Merito haec patimur, quia peccavimus in fratrem nostrum, videntes angustiam animae illius, dum deprecaretur nos, et non audivimus : idcirco venit super nos ista tribulatio.
We deserve to suffer these things, because we have sinned against our brother, seeing the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this affliction come upon us.
I’m not at all certain what the Committee was doing when they chopped up Genesis to get passages for this week. They leap into the middle of Joseph’s story with no backstory and they leave us with a weak opening for “Israel in Egypt”. We’ll get the Exodus story in a few days but this internecine dysfunction that plays at the heart of Israel’s story that carries past the Maccabees – and on to Bar Kochba in AD 135 – is suddenly robbed of its context.
Israel, oddly like the Church, is filled with squabbling brethren.
Bullies will creep up out of cracks in old sheds on snowy days in funny Christmas movies. They will appear in the bass section behind you to make obscene gestures with their hands on your ears. They will ooze out of the bus seats behind you to taunt you while the bus driver can’t see. They are your own brothers selling you into slavery – to the Egyptians, or to other bullies…
This act is heinous: for the brothers sell their own flesh into slavery. Joseph seems to lord over his brothers his own status as “Daddy and Mommy’s Baby Boy”. Yet the level of bulliness the brothers display is unparalleled: first plotting to kill Joseph (but not doing so only out of a fear of breaking the Kin’s Blood Taboo), then selling him into slavery.
And here they are, ten or 15 years later, still reaping the horror of what they’ve done.
Bob Dylan has this song… the opening verse describes what I imagine would be Joseph’s lament:
They say everything can be replaced
Yet every distance is not near
So I remember every face
Of every man who put me here
I’m not sure how Joseph feels. He’s crying by the end of the story… but is he crying from sheer loss, or from loss of will to torture these men who tortured him?
As someone who was bullied a lot in school, I confess I remember every face. I look them up on Facebook. This dude has a wife and kids and seems kinda happy. This other dude looks like he may have done some time and perhaps has found Jesus recently. Being bullied leaves a mark much deeper than the wounds inflicted, although you can still see my broken nose and tooth.
I’m not sure what Joseph feels here but was I to meet the members of the NCHS Warriors in a similar famine situation – even 35 years later, I’m not sure how I’d feel. Joseph is not exactly gracious. In fact, he gets a good bit of revenge before he caves in. Yes, I’m committing eisegesis: reading into the scriptures instead of exegesis, reading out. But hey, it’s my blog.
The brothers feel compunction here. Maybe not for the first time but, in a sense, finally. And as they speak Hebrew, Joseph can understand them… and I’m sure his own heart is pricked a little by the number of hoops he makes his brothers jump through.
Why does he do it? I don’t know. It’s possible to project all kinds of psychology into this story. It’s remarkably devoid of motive on Joseph’s part. First, he tries to bully them, then he makes them travel back and forth, then he breaks down.
It’s possible he doesn’t forgive them any more than I’ve forgiven my own crop of bullies. I try, but even typing this brief post as made me agitated: not angry, mind you… just… agitated. By the end of the story he seems to have reconciled with his family, but did he hang out with his brothers at all after this? Or just put them in nice houses in Goshen and leave them there? I hear echoes of mistrust and psychic wounds in the story of Potiphar’s wife, in the prison prophecy, in the story of his reunion with his father, and finally of his making his brothers promise to not leave even his bones behind in Egypt.
When he later says “You intended this for evil… but God intended it for good.” Is there any absolution or just a statement of fact?
How do the bullies feel? The brothers somehow remember Joseph, and that is as it should be: but do bullies remember their victims usually? Do they just go unthinkingly on with their lives? I would not be who I am today but for the bullies. I only went to one HS reunion – my ten year, I think – and I admit I was mortally afraid. So… yeah. I remember every face.