The third Sunday of the Narrative Lectionary has us learning about Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, grandson of Isaac and Rebeka, and great grandson of Abraham. Read about him here.
There’s a myth that I have never believed. I never believe that violence is singularly motivated by jealousy. In the days following 9/11, people said that the attacks were because of jealousy. I think that is a far too simplistic idea. Certainly jealousy can be a factor, but what about anger over injustice? Yes, people may be angry that one country seems to have a large portion of the wealth, and that they lord that wealth over other nations. But is that jealous?
Many interpret that Joseph’s brothers are jealous of the attention he receives from his father—they would like more of his attention. But is this jealousy? Isn’t that more like sibling rivalry? Sure, it’s rooted in jealousy. But I have another theory. I think that perhaps Joseph is a jerk. So his father makes a coat with sleeves for him, a sign of his love, that he didn’t make for the other boys. In that case, though, who would the boys be angry with? I think they’d be angry with their father. Verse 37:4 says, “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.” Who is the antecedent for “him” in the second and third clauses? Is it Joseph or is it Jacob?
If it’s Jacob, then the act of violence against Joseph may have been an act of violence against their father, rather than against Joseph.
Another point of interest to me is that Joseph seems to lord it over his brothers, this special-ness he thinks he has. He wears the coat from this father, even just out to the fields for the day. He points out to them that he has a dream where they bow down to him. Perhaps Joseph was that kid that gets on all our nerves… the one without any humility, who brags about how great he is. Which is, ultimately, a sign that he feels less confident than he appears.
And we expect emotional maturity from twelve boys with a father who can’t conceal that he loves one of his children more than he loves the others?
Emotional maturity (she says as she is convinced it is eluding her) is the ability to manage our emotions, so that they do not become a stumbling block to others.
Years later, Joseph’s brothers sit in front of him begging for help. There is famine in their land, and they need their brother to provide relief for them. They tell him that their father has said, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.”
That phrase right there stops me cold. They use the memory of their father to manipulate Joseph into helping them. Jacob mourned for Joseph as if he were dead. And yet, they intimate that they confessed their act of violence to Jacob.
I’m not sure it’s fair to expect that these young men will be emotionally mature. But I do believe that through the years Joseph becomes more emotionally mature.
What are your thoughts?