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A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”
“No we didn’t” came the reply.
“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”
“No we didn’t” came the reply.
“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”
“No we didn’t”
“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”
Today, in our first lesson, we hear the end of the story of Joseph and his brothers. It is a familiar story, but as a refresher: Joseph was daddy’s boy. Scripture says that his father, Jacob, loved him more than the others and even gave him a special coat of many colors and Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him. Then, Joseph had dreams: one where sheaves of wheat were bowing before him and another of eleven stars bowing before him. Joseph’s brothers and father all understood the implications of the dream: one day, all of them would come and bow before Joseph. Needless to say, the brothers cared little for baby brother, so when an opportunity presented itself, they made plans to kill him, but one of the brothers did not want to shed his blood, so they sold him into slavery instead.
Joseph eventually ended up in Egypt. He started as a house servant, but ended up in prison. While there, he rightly interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants who had been imprisoned. One of those servants would eventually be released and returned to his station. When Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret, the servant remembered Joseph’s gift of interpreting dreams, shared that info with Pharaoh, who then called for Joseph to come and interpret the dream. He did: there would be seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. He encouraged Pharaoh to store up food during the prosperous years so that they would have provisions during the famine. Pharaoh was so impressed that he made Joseph number two in all of Egypt.
It all played out just as Joseph had seen, and when the famine came, it was severe and everyone was starving, including Joseph’s family. However, they learned that Egypt had plenty of food, so they went there to trade, not knowing they would be coming to their brother. In the end, they bowed before him, still not knowing that this Prince of Egypt was their brother. In today’s reading, Joseph has finally revealed himself to his brothers and says, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now be distressed… be very distressed, and angry with yourselves you fools, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to crush you. What makes you think I would give you a single cent… a single grain of wheat.” Well, that’s how it ends in my head (reason #793 as to why I’ll never be a Saint).
Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
It would be very easy to take these words and turn them into some moral code with which we could measure our goodness by. This person hates me and I gave them a good review—check. This guy cussed me out, but I waved the sign of the cross over him—check. Someone stole from me, so I dropped off some of my old clothes at the thrift shop—check. Look at me Jesus, I’m doing what you said. But we know that Jesus was not into writing moral codes. He was interested in changing hearts of stone into hearts of love. In saying love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, give without counting the cost… in saying these things, Jesus was teaching about a radical generosity of spirit. A spirit that says, I don’t care if you hated me, sold me into slavery, left me for dead, I choose to love you, bless you, pray for you, not withhold anything from you as Joseph did with his brothers.
Commenting on this passage, N.T. Wright says, “The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity. Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead.”
I would really like to be that person. The one who could do those things, but… but…
Once a snake chased a butterfly and chased her day and night. Fear gave the butterfly strength, it beat its wings and flew farther and farther. And the snake did not get tired to crawl on its heels. On the third day, a weakened butterfly felt that she couldn’t fly anymore, she sat down on a flower and said to her pursuer, Before you kill me, can I ask you three questions?
It’s not in my habit to provide such opportunities to victims, but oh well, we will consider this as your death wish, you can ask.
Do you eat butterflies?
Did I do something bad to you?
Then why do you want to kill me?
I hate to watch you fly!!!
I cannot have that absurd generosity of Jesus, because there is a serpent that hates to see me fly, that hates to see me love, that hates to see me give, bless, turn the other cheek. There is a serpent that relentlessly pursues me, seeking to destroy the good that is within me. And, unfortunately, I have a tendency to listen to him. As St. Paul writes, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” That evil, that serpent, hates to watch us fly, hates to see us striving to be holy as our Father in Heaven is holy, so contrary to this call of the serpent to be greedy and hateful, we must actively and intentionally practice this generosity of spirit that Jesus is calling us to. It is achieved by abandoning ourselves to God the Father in the same manner as Jesus did, for even as he hung upon the cross, he still loved, he forgave, he turned the other cheek, he blessed, he gave—not just his coat—but his very life.
It is as Mother Teresa said, “Love, to be real, must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.” Therefore, she says to us, “Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.” The serpent pursues us, but if we will abandon ourselves to God and his love, then in spite of our own weaknesses, we too can possess this glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity.
Let us pray:
God, our Father,
You redeemed us
and made us Your children in Christ.
Through Him You have saved us from death
and given us Your Divine life of grace.
By becoming more like Jesus on earth,
may we come to share His glory in Heaven.
Give us the peace of Your kingdom,
which this world does not give.
By Your loving care protect the good You have given us.
Open our eyes to the wonders of Your Love
that we may serve You with a willing heart.