The ninth day of Lent

Friday after 1 Lent

Just as every Sunday is a little Easter, every Friday is a little Good Friday. The new life that is celebrated in the light of every Sunday begins in the shadows of Friday when we remember that the Son of God "went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified." Darkness and light are persistent themes throughout the sacred history that is presented to us in the Bible, from the darkness at creation which is broken when God said, "Let there be light," to the darkness at the sixth hour on Good Friday that cannot overcome the Light of the world even as he hangs dying on the Cross. The cosmic struggle between darkness and light is represented again and again in the smaller struggles we read about in the history of God's people and each Friday in Lent we are reflecting on one of those prefiguring events.

Joseph and his Brothers
Genesis 37:17-28

Marc Chagall, Joseph and his Brothers, 1931-1939So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." And Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him"--that he might rescue him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty, there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers heeded him. Then Midianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.

We find the story of Joseph and his brothers to be one of the most poignant in all of Scripture. In some ways, Abel suffered the kinder fate--simply to be killed and have an end of it. Joseph, on the other hand, is condemned to live on with the knowledge of his brothers' hatred. First he was stripped and humiliated, and left to languish in a dark pit, uncertain of his fate. Then he was sold to strangers and carried off to another uncertain fate in a foreign land. On top of that Joseph was far from innocent when it came to his relationship with his brothers and so he had to live with his own guilt and self-doubt. And what of the brothers, even Reuben who intervened up to a point but in the end joined the nefarious affair? Their jealousy had led them to commit a wicked deed which they would have to spend many years lying about to their aged father and, in truth, rationalizing and lying about to themselves. Casting their brother into a pit and selling him into slavery, they cast themselves, as well, into a terrible darkness. Recently, we have been researching our personal family history and in the course of our expectations we have discovered that we have ancestors to be proud of and others who managed to make a mess of their lives in one way or another. The truth is that every family has its ups and downs, its heroes and its scoundrels. We are not responsible for the sins of our forebears, but we do well to remember that we are just as human as they were. They had choices and so do we. We have the power to choose good or evil, light or darkness, faith or faithlessness, life or death.

As we read this story, there are echoes, of course, of other stories, particularly one other story which it prefigures. The beloved son, the pieces of silver, the intimations of death, the pit, the myrrh--all these remind us that in God's time and in God's plan, darkness does not have the last word.

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