We continue with the story of Joseph the Patriarch of the Old Testament. In this teaching we will learn about some incidents that happened to Joseph and how we can relate these to our own lives.
Joseph was the second-last child of Jacob. Joseph and Benjamin were born of Rachel (the wife whom Jacob loved the most). All of Jacob’s other children were born from his servants, and also from Leah. Jacob had twelve children in total. The older brothers were jealous because Joseph used to have dreams about them, which he shared with his family. In these dreams, Joseph’s brothers were bowing down before him. These dreams made the brothers so angry that they tried to kill Joseph at any opportunity. However they did not succeed. Eventually they sold Joseph to the Egyptians for 20 pieces of silver. The brothers then informed their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Jacob believed this, and mourned his son.
Meanwhile in Egypt, Joseph worked as a slave in Potiphar’s house. During this time Joseph was mistreated, and was put behind bars in prison. Whilst imprisoned he had a chance to prove his identity. He was then selected by the Pharaoh and appointed as the Prime Minister of all Egypt. Now that we have established the background of today’s Bible study, we continue reading from Genesis 41:55.
The famine in Egypt
There was a great famine in Egypt; the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh advised all the Egyptians to go to Joseph, and do whatever he says. This parallels the incident when Mother Mary told the people at the Wedding of Cana to go to Jesus and do whatever He says. Here, Joseph is in the place of Jesus. In fact, Joseph is always considered as the pre-shadow of Jesus. Joseph is also considered as the pre-shadow of St Joseph in the New Testament. In their encyclicals, Pope Francis and predecessors such as St John Paul II have written about the importance of St Joseph, and going to him for all our needs. So the Egyptians went to Joseph and did what he said to do as instructed by Pharaoh.
And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Gen 41:56 (NRSV)
The whole of Egypt was suffering. But Joseph was in charge, for everything that was happening had already been revealed to him by God. So Joseph had prepared in advance and he did very well. In fact, the whole world came to Joseph in Egypt because the famine was severe throughout the whole world.
When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? Genesis 42:1 (NRSV)
There is something very special here: Jacob was with his eleven children. One of them, Joseph, was missing and believed by his father to be dead. Although the ten older brothers knew he had been sold and taken to Egypt, Benjamin (Joseph’s younger brother) did not know anything because he was too young when this happened. So when the brothers discovered there was food in Egypt and that their father was planning to go there, they started looking at each other. Why? Because the moment that anything connected with Egypt came up, they remembered Joseph. This is why Jacob asked them to explain why they were looking at each other. So when they realised what Jacob was planning, they were confused and disturbed. For there would be a huge problem if they found Joseph and that Jacob would come to know that his son was not dead.
So this meant that the word “Egypt” was haunting them. But there is more. The mere fact that they sold his brother and made him a slave to the Egyptians 20 years ago meant that the same memory had also been haunting them all this time. In effect, they too were slaves of the same memory. So although Joseph was sold as a slave, he was free. The ten brothers were also free, but they were slaves. Brothers and sisters, if you have committed any terrible sins in your past, and unless or until you are 100% sure that you have been forgiven by Jesus, this memory will haunt you. This memory will come after you. It will disturb you and it will destroy you.
Sinful memories will haunt you
There was an occasion when Fr Joseph was in confrontation with a person who was speaking in support of abortion. When Fr Joseph asked him why, he replied, “Father, you should be compassionate. You cannot be so stubborn with the Word of God. You should be merciful and compassionate”. Fr Joseph asked him to explain the kind of mercy he was referring to.
The man replied, “Father, suppose a girl is raped by some gangsters or the wrong people. Do you expect this girl to carry the baby of all these wicked and crooked people, and then to bring this child up? What an injustice for this woman! Is this not going to harm this woman’s integrity? Why should she carry a baby that also belongs to someone who abused, attacked and raped her? She should have the freedom to get rid of the baby.”
Fr Joseph explained that there were two issues here: the man was talking about showing mercy to the woman, but at the same time, the man forgot about showing mercy to the innocent baby. So in order to give mercy to one person, the baby’s right-to-life was being taken away. Ultimately this would mean being merciless towards another human being who was as helpless and small as a baby. At the very least this man had the courage, strength and intelligence to debate the situation. But the baby would not be able to understand any situation nor why the mother would want to end its life. In effect, the abortion act would become worse than the rapist’s actions.
Fr Joseph recollected another incident which he used to explain to this man. Fr Joseph had met a lady who attended the retreat centre. She was in depression and hated herself. After talking to her, Fr Joseph told her that God loved her and had forgiven her.
She replied, “Father, I don’t think God will forgive me. I’m so angry with everyone”. Fr Joseph told her not ever to say that, for God was not angry. The lady explained that she was raped forcefully by a man without consent. She then became pregnant but was unable to tell anyone. All this time, the rapist was freely moving around. She was so affected that she ended up being admitted to a hospital. She was in a Christian Hospital. A religious nun, who was also a nurse, was taking care of her. When the Sister realised that her patient was pregnant, the lady broke down crying. The lady could not understand why she should carry the baby of someone who had destroyed her life. The nun, instead of understanding her situation and teaching her what was right or wrong, was moved by pity and compassion. However, the nun was motivated by worldly compassion. The Sister told her that she did not need to carry the baby, and that she could have an abortion. On this advice, the lady went ahead with this thinking that it was fine. She believed that ridding herself of responsibility and saving herself was the best solution.
However after a few days, the memories of this baby came to haunt her. She started dreaming about the baby. Every time she would see a small baby, she remembered the baby whom she killed. Every time she looked at her stomach, she remembered that this was the place where there was once a baby who was killed. She was mentally tortured many times. She went for counselling with many people. Everyone tried to console her, but she started hating herself. She returned to the nun, and asked why she advised her to have an abortion. After all, although the baby was fathered by the rapist, the child was also her child of her own blood. She questioned how she could kill her baby. The lady could not stop hating herself, hating the nun, and hating everyone. She entered into depression. When she was brought to the retreat centre, she asked why no one had told her not to have the abortion.
We feel bad for victims of all kinds of tragedies. It is very painful. It is our duty to protect our sisters in our communities. Unfortunately when something goes wrong, it is also our responsibility to protect not only the mother but also the baby, because we have no right to take the life of anyone. We cannot take a baby’s life thinking that it is fine for the time being, and that this will provide a release from all the problems. Remember, the problem will start. The problem will follow. Therefore in no way can we support abortion. Whatever the justification given, we cannot ever support this act of cruelty. This is why the Holy Catholic Church very strongly objects to killing babies born in the womb of the mother. If we justify this to save our minds, or to allow any momentary relief or pleasure, we will suffer. Doing any such thing during our life will haunt us throughout our entire life.
So throughout her life, this woman will endure the consequences of the abortion, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is our duty to protect her, take care of her and help her come out of the situation. Only after some time she will be able to adjust and overcome this.
God’s overall plan
In the case of Joseph, his brothers remembered what they had done to him. From the moment they heard the word, “Egypt”, they were confused. They were frightened. They looked at each other. Jacob noticed this.
“I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt, go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die”. Gen 42:2 (NRSV)
Although famine is a great tragedy, in God’s overall plan, He was using the tragedy to bring these twelve sons together in Egypt. This eventually led to the Exodus to the Promised Land, which established a New Israel. In the New Testament, we read about Jesus selecting the twelve apostles and starting the New Exodus to Heaven, the Heavenly Promised Land. So these two readings are connected.
There is also another point that we need to remember: this famine was permitted by God. If there had not been a famine, the family of Jacob would never have gone to Egypt. Therefore, in order to lead us to the right path, God can even use calamities. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a great tragedy. But God can use it positively. If it were not for this pandemic, Divine UK would not have started daily live-streaming. All of us would not have started many things in our lives that we are doing today. We may have not have started reading the Bible. As a result, many families have come together and even good outcomes relating to the climate, weather and animals have happened. If God wills, He can use tragedies and pandemics for our favour. We confirm this in Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.
So Jacob and his sons were in a do-or-die situation. Without food, they were destined to die. There would be no guarantee that they would get food once they reached Egypt. They only knew that there was food there. But remember, those of us who read the Bible know that there was 100% guarantee for them. We know this because Jacob’s own son was in charge of Egypt. This was how God planned everything.
Remember who is in charge
Sometimes we have no guarantee whether we will get the job when we go for the interview. But remember, your own father is in charge of that interview- your Father in Heaven. Sometimes when you go into hospital, you have no guarantee of who will take care of you, or whether the operation will be successful or not. But remember, the Doctor of Doctors, your God the Father is the one doing the operation. Believe it, do not doubt. We just need to believe in God that is all.
Jacob never imagined that his son was in charge. But God knew that Jacob should go, and that everything would turn out very easy (because Joseph was in charge). Many times we fall into so much tension, we get so scared and frightened, because we do not know who is in charge. We are not ready to believe who is in charge. If Jacob was told not to worry because his son was in charge, Jacob would not have believed it. Many times certain truths are beyond our imaginations. Even if the Pope came to convince us, we would not believe it. But the truth is the truth, and the truth cannot be removed just because you or I cannot believe it. This is something very important that we need to remember.
So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. Genesis 42:2-3 (NRSV)
The same ten people who tried to kill Joseph went to Egypt. Jacob did not send Benjamin as he was the only surviving child of Rachel (who was the mother to Joseph and Benjamin). Jacob did not want to lose Benjamin as well. Perhaps he was afraid that something would happen to him, or maybe he had doubts over his sons, or some other superstitious beliefs.
Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan. Genesis 42:5 (NRSV)
The famine eventually reached the family of Jacob.
Do not destroy another’s dreams
Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Genesis 42:6 (NRSV)
This was one of the dreams of Joseph. We read in the Word of God:
Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.”His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. Genesis 37:5-8 (NRSV)
So the dream came true. But in fact, why did these ten men plan to destroy Joseph? Why did they want to kill him? The answer is because they wanted to destroy the dream, for it should not come true. However in selling Joseph, they made his dream even more possible. So when we try to destroy someone else’s dreams, we may in fact be supporting them, knowingly or unknowingly, and hence fulfilling their dream. So never try to destroy the dreams of another person, for if we do this we may be accomplishing it faster.
When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognised them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” Genesis 42:7 (NRSV)
Within no time Joseph recognised them, but they did not recognise him. Joseph is the pre-shadow of Jesus. Jesus knows all of us; often we do not recognise Him. We do not understand Jesus, but He understands us very well, including all our secret sins. Joseph understood all these ten men, who they were, and he knew their secret sins.
Joseph behaved harshly, not because he hated them, in fact he loved them. However, this was a process that they had to endure because of the consequence of their sins.
Although Joseph had recognised his brothers, they did not recognise him. Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!”They said to him, “No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. Genesis 42:8-10 (NRSV)
By this point, the brothers had humbled themselves as servants.
We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies.” But he said to them, “No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said, “We, your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.” Genesis 42:11-13 (NRSV)
In this verse, they were referring to Joseph. However they were blatantly lying about him. Ironically, the one whom they said was no more was there all the more, standing right in front of them and they did not know.
But Joseph said to them, “It is just as I have said to you; you are spies! Here is how you shall be tested: as Pharaoh lives, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Genesis 42:14-15 (NRSV)
Joseph said these words because he wanted to meet his younger brother again.
Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that you your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies. And he put them all together in prison for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households Genesis 42:16-19 (NRSV)
Joseph knew that if they did not go back to his own father, he would die because of lack of food.
and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so.They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.” Genesis 42:20-21 (NRSV)
Repent and ask forgiveness from God
By now, the brothers were very worried about themselves. They remembered their brother whom they tried to kill, and then they sold. They said, “See, he was pleading in front of us (Joseph). But we did not listen. Now we are pleading in front of this man, and he is not listening”.
God wanted to teach the brothers a lesson. God wanted to purify them. This is why God allowed Joseph’s harsh behaviour. In fact, Joseph did not want to behave like this. We know this because later on, Joseph went to a secret room and cried loudly because he felt such pain for his brothers. Joseph desperately wanted to love them, but he was forced to act like this so that they would be purified.
Brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not, even if you are good or bad, every past sin will haunt you if you do not repent and ask for forgiveness from God. Be warned that your sins will come after you. Therefore, make every effort to confess all your sins to God. Amen! Praise the Lord!