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Friday, second week of Lent

February 25, 2005

Blessed Friday!

Readings: 
Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28 (Joseph’s jealous brothers wanted to kill him,
but sold him into slavery instead)
Psalm 105:16-21 “Remember the marvels the Lord has done”
+Matthew 21:33-46 (the murderous tenants of the vineyard will be ousted)

Today we read two stories of the persecution of the righteous, two foreshadowings of Jesus’ death.  Joseph’s half-brothers, jealous of Daddy’s favoritism, irritated by Joseph’s bringing bad reports about them, and further irritated by his dreams of superiority, plotted to kill him.  At the last moment a caravan of traders came along & they decided to sell him into slavery instead & just pretend he was dead.  Joseph is a type (foreshadowing) of Jesus, dying to the life he knew in order to save his people from disaster (in Joseph’s case, from a famine).  Our Psalm brings out Joseph’s role in saving his family from starvation.

In Jesus’ parable, the tenants of the vineyard refused to pay their rent, abusing the servants who were sent to collect it & finally killing the master’s son, thinking they’d become the heirs.  The master’s son is another type of Jesus, killed by those left in charge of the house of Israel (portrayed in prophetic literature as God’s vineyard, see Isaiah 5:1-7 & Jeremiah 12:10).

In both stories, it’s much easier to identify with the victim than with the wicked.  Who wants to think themselves capable of such cruelty?  There is some justification for identifying with the victim.  Jesus said we are to be like Him, and the victim in each story is a type of Christ.  In addition, the “vineyard” has been taken away from the original tenants and given to the Church, to us (see Matthew 21:41).

If we stop there, however, we’ll have missed the main point of both stories, for they are a call to repentance and a promise of redemption.  Whenever we sin, we are taking on the role of Joseph’s jealous brothers, the role of the greedy tenants.  We are “crucifying again unto [ourselves] the Son of God, and making Him a mockery” (Hebrews 6:6).  Oh, we don’t really mean any harm, we just want things to go our way in this one little instance.  But one sin leads to another…and another…  We can’t see the end of it until it’s too late.

Joseph’s brothers started small.  First they just gave him the silent treatment (Genesis 37:4).  All things considered, that seems relatively harmless, and they did have a legitimate grievance.  Their father was being unfair.  Then they nourished their hatred with Joseph’s dreams (Genesis 37:11).  Only when they saw him coming toward him in the fields did they actually begin to suggest murder.  And all this led to lying to their father to cover up what they’d done (Genesis 37:31-33).  This is why Jesus was so severe in warning against cultivated anger (Matthew 5:22) and lustful looks (Matthew 5:28).  Sin starts in little ways in the secret places of our hearts.  Left unchecked it takes on a life of its own which becomes increasingly harder to control, ultimately ending in eternal death (“sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” -James 1:15).  We need to head it off at the pass, and stay far away from its haunts (also called avoiding near occasions of sin).

The amazing news is that Jesus has taken the very death-dealing sin that we have unleashed and has used it to rescue us, if only we are humble enough to reject our sins and accept his redemption.  “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).  We crucified Jesus through our sins, but He has used that very crucifixion to save us from our sin!  This was foreshadowed in the story of Joseph too.  His brothers sinned by selling him into slavery.  That was a bad thing.  But God used it to save them by putting Joseph in charge of storing up food in Egypt so that his family wouldn’t starve to death.  Now, lest we get confused into thinking sin is a good thing (since God can redeem it), St. Paul continues, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who have died to sin [through Baptism into Christ’s death] still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).  Sin is still deadly.  Only those who have turned away from it (i.e. repented), who have turned whole-heartedly to God, will benefit from His work of redemption.

One implication of all this is that the devil just can’t win in our lives without our permission.  When the devil does his worst, God transforms it into His best and offers it to us.  It’s up to us to chose which we will accept.

May God give us the grace to face squarely the sources of death in our lives and to take them to Him for a trade-in on eternal life.

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