Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Week 14, Wednesday, Year 1

Readings: Genesis 41:55-57; 42:5-7, 17-24 ; Psalm 33; Matthew 10:1-7

The story of Joseph, sold into Egypt by his brothers, but then rising to a position of supreme importance in the government of that country, being in a position to save his family from famine, and finally being reconciled with them, remains one of the most popular Bible stories. We have only to recall the success of Lloyd-Webber's musical Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to see how popular this story remains.

But although it is a story from the Bible, there are very few references to God in it. It is quite a contrast to what we read about the other patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or about Moses and David later on. In their lives God was much more directly and consistently involved, talking and arguing with them, arranging things and demanding things that will ensure their perseverance in the relationship with him. In the case of Joseph it is more like life as we experience it from day to day, dominated by ordinary human interactions and needs, with faith, yes, in the overall providential care of God for the people, acknowledging that from time to time, but for the most part getting on with the tasks and demands of each day.

This occasional reference to God in the narrative about Joseph should not deceive us however. Coming as it does today, along with the gospel reading in which we hear about the call of the apostles, invites us to compare Joseph and Jesus in their responsibility and care for the people. The twelve apostles are the patriarchs of the new Israel where the twelve sons of Jacob were the patriarchs of the first Israel. Just as Joseph ends up as giver of the bread that feeds and sustains God's people - and so ensures that the covenant continues - Jesus is giver of the bread that feeds and sustains the Church, the new Israel.

It is surprising that the New Testament does not refer to this giving of bread by Joseph in Egypt but it is a link we can make. For Joseph became a kind of saviour of the world for his capacity to distribute food for everybody in a time of universal famine. Jesus is the true saviour of the world for his capacity to give life to the world through the sacrifice of his body and blood, the bread and wine broken and poured out so that all might live.

The apostles are called to share in this mission of Jesus, to be his assistants and co-workers in distributing the gifts of God to the people. In this they are like Joseph. Many of us have the privilege of participating each day in the Eucharistic meal, eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ for the life of our own souls and for the life of faith we are called to share with others. But even if we do not have that privilege, we receive each day the gifts of God in ordinary food. Usually now we take this for granted and God appears explicitly as rarely as he does in the stories about Joseph. But it does not mean that he is not present, feeding us not just in the sacrament but also in the ordinary food and drink for which we give thanks and which we receive as signs of his continuing care. He is constantly feeding us also through the teaching of the Church in which he nourishes our minds and hearts, strengthening in us the life of faith, hope and love, which is our true life hidden with Christ in God.

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