“When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you keep looking at one another? I have heard,’ he said, ‘that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.’ . . . Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.” Genesis 42: 1-3, 5, NRSV
And so we learn that through the drought Joseph and his family are going to intersect again. They are going to encounter one another. The brothers who sold Joseph into slavery are going to see that very brother.
Going to Egypt, the brothers are probably worrying about the drought. They are stressed about the lack of food. Do they have the money needed to buy grain? Are they in danger of being robbed on the way there or on the way back? Will the Egyptians sell to them as foreigners or will they keep all of their grain to sustain their own people? We can imagine the many concerns and worries that the brothers talk about on their way to Egypt. Chances are they are NOT thinking or talking about Joseph, unless they pass the pit that they put him in on their way to Egypt. Even so, we would imagine that Joseph was but a dim memory to his brothers.
It is the drought, a devastating lack of rain, a killing cataclysm, that leads to the encounter between Joseph and his brothers. It is often tragedy or hardship that brings people together. A death in the family may bring many relatives together. People who have not seen each other in years. Perhaps people who have not spoken in decades. Maybe family members who have parted company in a hostile manner will be thrown together. A natural disaster can bring unlikely parties together. Maybe the homes of rich and poor alike have been devastated by a tornado and the people are thrown together to work on the clean up. Maybe white police officers and black citizens alike are killed in a mass shooting and the families and community are all brought together in their grief.
The question remains: How to respond? Take the opportunity to reconcile? Seek common ground? Share the pain? Allow our common humanity to bring us together? Or maintain hostilities. Keep the wall up. Perpetuate the alienation. These are the choices that may face us when we encounter those from whom we are estranged.
As we will see, Joseph seems to need some time to think the whole thing through. He is so taken aback at the sight of his brothers. The tables have turned. He holds their lives in his hands. What will he do?
All people suffer. All people experience alienation from others and from their true selves. Sometimes extreme circumstances can provide the opportunity for us to pursue reconciliation and wholeness. Sometimes a broken heart lets the love out. Sometimes pain exposes our vulnerability and healing can ensue. May our eyes be open to see possibilities for reconciliation. Amen.