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Friday, Second Week of Lent

March 9, 2007

Blessed St. Frances of Rome’s Day! (look for her story in the “Saints of Lent” category)

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)

Joseph’s brothers did not love their father, any more than the tenants
loved the owner of the vineyard. That may not be obvious on the
surface. After all, it was Joseph against whom they plotted, not
Jacob. But why did they plot against Joseph? Because he was Daddy’s
favorite, the first-born of his first love, Rachel, and a faithful,
godly son besides. There’s little worse they could’ve done to break
their father’s heart. They may not have thought that far ahead, but
they certainly paid no heed to what would be best for him. They
couldn’t see past their own jealous little noses. We’ve seen that sort
of short-sightedness before. We aren’t so good at seeing past
immediate appearances either, which is why we’re so dependent
on God’s commands–He can see the big picture, the consequences,
depths and eternal realities, so He can tell us how to make the most of
life.

The tenants of the vineyard suffered from a similar short-sightedness.
Even in terms of sheer practicality they come off looking like
dunderheads. So you think that if you kill his son, the master will
give you everything?! Yeah, right.

But that’s how sin works. It dulls the intellect, weakens the will, and
strengthens our tendency to further sin. It’s a flight from Reality,
also known as insanity. It’s knowing that something doesn’t work, that
it does more harm than good, and doing it anyway. Hello?

The good news is that the reverse is also true. Repentance, turning
away from sin and back to Reality, begins the process of clearing and
quickening our minds, strengthening our wills and making it easier to
avoid sin in the future. Besides, we no longer have to live in hiding,
or remember what we said to whom in covering up our sin. That’s a
pretty good return.

God makes it even better. He even makes our sin work for us once
we’ve repented of it! Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery to get
rid of him. 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. As Joseph said when his brothers begged
for mercy, “Have no fear. Can I take the place of God? Even
though you meant to harm me, God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

We, in imitation of the tenant farmers, killed Jesus because He came
bringing news we didn’t want to hear, because we wanted to play god & He
was getting in our way. But God transformed His death into the source
of our redemption. As St. Paul says, “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).

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. It still clouds our minds, weakens our wills, and
all the rest of it. God is good, not sin. And it is because He is so
supremely good that He can turn sin right-side out, so to speak, that
sin can’t get the better of Him.

Not only does this give us hope against the stupidity of our own past
sins (and who of us hasn’t exclaimed, “How could I have been so
dumb?!”), but it also frees us to hope in the midst of the terrible
wrongs that are being committed all around us (and against us).

Redemption is God’s specialty. Joseph didn’t give way to bitterness as
a slave in Potiphar’s house, nor even in prison, after Potiphar’s wife
framed him for refusing her advances. He didn’t take it upon himself to
right the wrongs that had been committed against him. He left that
entirely up to God, who will not be outdone in ingenuity. His “only”
part in the battle against evil was to avoid sinning himself, and to
steer others away from sin. He simply, faithfully, cheerfully served
God and his neighbor with all the gifts God had given him. In a word,
he loved. And God abundantly blessed everything he did. That’s
freedom.

We’re afraid to love, because we think we’ll lose. Love looks so
vulnerable, and we’re in pain already. We feel like the onus is on us
to right the wrongs, to protect ourselves, to rout the evil forces that
have hurt us. That’s what got Joseph’s brothers and the tenant farmers
in so much trouble. Joseph and Jesus stand as witnesses for us to the
power of love, of leaving to God the righting of wrongs. Yes, they
suffered for a time, but look at what happened! Look at what God
accomplished through their suffering! Look at the dignity and freedom
they found in the midst of love; look at the joy to which God led them
in the end. To quote one of my favorite poets:

“Who doubts that love has an effective weapon
may meet with a surprise” (Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD).

God is love (I John 4:16). And love never fails (I Corinthians 13:8).

May we have the courage (and the good sense)
to choose to live in holy love,
leaving our defense in God’s capable hands.

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