"Have no fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people."
Maybe because I happened to be the lector for that daily mass, Joseph's words echo in my brain two weeks after I read them. The reading was from the Christian liturgy for Saturday, September 10, 2021. Like so many Old Testament readings, it feels ideally suited for these chaotic, confounding, and sometimes terrifying days of the twenty-first century.
Joseph was the most powerful man in Egypt next to the Pharaoh, the man to whom the brothers who sold him for twenty pieces of silver came to beg for food. Afraid that Joseph would revenge his attempted murder, the brothers worry. "Suppose Joseph has been nursing a grudge against us now plans to pay us back in full for all the wrong we did him!"
In these fear-filled days, replete with every kind of polarizing threat of wins and losses, Joeseph's reply to his brothers bears repeating. "Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good."
How did Joseph find the grace to reply this way?
We tend to think that ours are the worst of days: when compared with earlier times, we believe our politicians to be the most corrupt, our wars to be the most brutal, and our depravities to exceed any of those who came before us. But the Old Testament reveals just the opposite:
"Arrogance and scorn have now grown strong; it is a time of disaster and violent anger."
The speaker is Mattathias in the first book of Maccabees. "King Antiochus decreed to his whole kingdom that "all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs." The Gentiles conformed to the King's command, and many Israelites were in favor of his religion. They sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath."
Taken from the Monday Office of Readings of the Divine Office, the words of the ancient king ring eerily familiar 2300 years later. All should be one people meant forgoing the Law. Letting themselves be defiled with every kind of impurity and abomination so that they might forget the Law and change all their observances."
Antiochus appointed inspectors to assure that all were following Greek customs and declaring obeisance to the Greek gods to Hellenize the land. Including Judah-Israel. The King's inspectors desecrated Altars, burned holy scrolls, and had all observers of the Law executed. Jewish women with circumcised babies were murdered along with their infants. The women were found with their dead infants hanging around their necks.
These were the brutal methods used in the third century before the birth of Christ on those refusing to conform with the King's command to walk away from the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.
The persecution lasted throughout the life of Mattathias. Finally, he exhorted his sons as he lay dying: "Arrogance and scorn have grown strong; it is a time of disaster and violent anger. Therefore my sons, be zealous for the Law and give your life for the covenant of our fathers."
I find the knowledge that ours is not the worst of times perversely comforting. Where can we turn for help?
Not to the politicians, or the scientists or the experts.
Let's turn to the man who drowned because he looked away, who fell asleep instead of praying, the Apostle who denied Him three times but on whom Christ founded His Church.
Remember Peter's catch?
They'd been out all night and caught nothing. So when Jesus tells him to 'put out your boat into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,' St. Peter replies that they have worked hard all night and caught nothing.'
Why does he then go back out?
Why the immediacy of Peter's added, "But at your command, I will lower the nets..."
It is all too tempting to ascribe Peter's enigmatic answer to what we know now about Peter; he is, after all, a saint. It was Peter to whom God the Father gave the knowledge of Christ as the Messiah.
Let's not hedge here.
Let's trust that our prayers, our sacrifices, and our fasts do matter!
So that when He calls, we can risk, open our mouth, put out into the deep that we will hear.
Be not afraid; from now on, you will be catching men. "
Let's pray with all our hearts, wills and minds, Thy Will Be Done!