For the past couple weeks the Church has presented excerpts from the Book of Genesis as our first scripture for daily Mass. These scriptures tell us about the saga of Abraham and his family- how God acted personally in the life of a particular family so as to accomplish his will and purposes.
The Church moves us through this saga at what seems like breakneck speed. We are hearing only segments of a brilliant story. It’s a good think that if we listen to these stories that we are unsatisfied and want more. We should not limit our experience of the Bible to the lectionary readings at Mass, but should read and study the Bible on our own or gather together with friends. The Book of Genesis is always a good place to start.
The great-grandchildren of Abraham are children of Jacob, who through his two wives had produced 12 sons who would be the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, these great family clans would one day be united to become the Kingdom of David. We hear about two of the twelve sons of Jacob today- Judah and his brother Joseph. It is from the descendents of Judah that King David would arise, who would foreshadow the coming of Christ the Lord. The Gospel tells us that the Lord Jesus is born into a family descended from Judah.
The relationship of Judah and his brother Joseph would be best described as strained. Joseph’s brothers, resentful of the affection and esteem their father lavished on him, conspired first to have him killed, and then sold the poor boy into slavery. Joseph survived the ordeal and not only survived and prospered, but became the prime minister of the lands of Egypt, second only to the Pharoh himself. A famine displaces Joseph’s family from their ancestral lands and they journey to Egypt seeking food. Joseph recognizes his brothers immediately, but time, and likely guilt, keeps Joseph’s identity hidden from his brothers.
It seems that God has delivered Joseph’s brothers into his hands and he is now positioned to make them pay for what they had done to him years ago. But in an utter and complete surprise, a turn of the plot that readers of this text have found to be a total surprise, Joseph forgives his brothers, seeking reconciliation, rather than enacting vengeance.
The Church understands this story as a foreshadowing of Christ, who forgives those who tortured and killed him, even though that forgiveness was undeserved.
The surprise of Joseph’s forgiveness prepares us for the even greater surprise of Christ’s forgiveness.
We are meant to be the bearers of Christ’s forgiveness into the world, which can only happen if we have experienced the forgiveness that he offers. This forgiveness happens in the Sacraments of the Church, particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation- in which Christ speaks to us the same word of forgiveness that he spoke from the cross!
If we resist hearing this word, our hearts inevitably grow hardened and a dark spirit of un-forgiveness overtakes us. Authentic disciples of Jesus Christ are those who know that they can find Christ in his Sacraments, who seek his word of forgiveness frequently, and impart the forgiveness they have received from Christ to others- even if this forgiveness is undeserved. If people look at us as Christians and see only that we are nice or polite or generous with our money this is not enough. Christians should be a people who are known by their willingness to forgive.
It is in our willingness to forgive, especially when the forgiveness is undeserved, that we are most like Christ.
Christ speaks today in his Gospel about the Kingdom, insisting that the reality of his Kingdom be proclaimed and that his disciples take great risks and make extraordinary sacrifices for the sake of this Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Christ is not simply a heaven far away or a utopia that we create out of our idealism. The Kingdom of Christ is David’s Kingdom renewed and transformed. This Kingdom is a new kind of Israel and this new kind of Israel is what Christ gives to us in his Church.
The proclamation of the Kingdom is the invitation to know God in Christ in the Church. It is for the Church that disciples take great risks and it is the Church that requires of us extraordinary sacrifices.
I realize that this thick description of the Kingdom of Christ as the Church is unsettling, especially for those who find the Church hard to take and make of it merely a club or corporation or an institution. But if we think of the Church merely as a club or corporation or institution we miss the point of what Christ intends his Church to be and to do.
The worst refusals of Christ and the Church are often not those that are most direct, but those that are indirect, especially those kinds of refusals that attempt to make Christ and his Church into what they are not or simply cannot be.
For our refusals, Lord, direct and indirect, we ask your forgiveness and beg for your mercy…