Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday of the Second Week in Lent

Genesis 37:6-22 / Matthew 21:33-46

And Ruben hearing this, endeavored to deliver him out of their hands, and said: Do not take away his life, nor shed his blood ...

Reuben, the eldest of the sons of Israel, presents us with something of a puzzle in the story cycle about Joseph. On the one hand, Reuben appears to collude with the rest of his brothers in plotting to be rid of their younger brother and Israel's favorite, as well as in deceiving their father Israel in claiming that Joseph was slain by beasts, rather than sold in slavery to Ishmaelites. On the other and, Reuben, we are told, did not truly wish any harm to come to Joseph, convincing his brothers to cast Joseph into a well rather than kill him outright. He said this, we are told, being desirous to deliver him out of their hands, and to restore him to his father. Even so, when the Ishmaelites come, Reuben does not prevent Joseph's being sold into slavery, and he does not confess to his father the wrong they have done to their brothers. This turns out in fact to fulfill divine providence, to save not only Egypt from famine, but Israel as well, and so set up the circumstances for the Exodus, the giving of the Law, and the forging of Israel as a people to occupy and possess the Land of Promise. Yet, Reuben knew none of this.

It is of course true that all of God's plans will come to pass, that nothing happens save that God in some sense will it to be. All the same, this does not permit us to sit by idly while wickedness occurs before our eyes. Even if we may be less wicked, less culpable than those who demand innocent blood, our best intentions cannot erase our silence when standing up for the weak and defenseless actually costs us something. For Reuben to have defended Joseph would have been a risk, a risk that he, too, would face the murderous envy of this brothers. It may indeed have been right to seek to save his brother in a way leading to minimal risk to his own person. However, when it became clear that the choice was his brother's enslavement and possible permanent exile from his home and Reuben's own facing up to his brothers to defends Joseph, Reuben chose to abandon his brother to an unknown, and to the best of his reckoning, terrible fate.

In those countries where there is little daily risk in professing the Christian faith, we can easily find ourselves in the place of Reuben. For the sake of clever strategy, we might defend the innocent and helpless in ways that require a minimal cost from ourselves, and that may well be right. Even so, are we ready to confess our faith in Christ when there may well be a terrible price to pay? Do we compromise with those of murderous intent, who seek the blood of the child in the womb or the criminal on death row, to maintain our place at their table? Or, knowing the fate of Joseph, do we throw ourselves upon the providence of God, and rather than just presuming all will be well while we play it safe, endeavor instead to speak the truth boldly even when our life seems forfeit, confidence in the knowledge that, through our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no wickedness on earth that has not already been overcome by the glorious and life-giving power of the Cross?

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