“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” Genesis 45:1
After Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, he sends them home, with grain, and without one brother. Unbeknownst to them, he also sends their money home with them that they brought to pay for the grain. Later they go back to Egypt bringing the youngest brother and the money from the first go round as well as more money and gifts. And Joseph sends them back with grain, with their money, and with a goblet planted in the pack of the youngest brother. Then a guard goes after them and confronts them about the cup. They all return to Joseph and Judah offers to remain in place of his younger brother. Finally, Joseph reveals his identity and everything is exposed.
All these machinations. The return of the money. The insistence on seeing the younger brother. The planting of the cup. Somehow Joseph seems to be ensuring that the brothers are beholden to him. That they are in his debt. That he has intimidated them so that he has the upper hand. Why would he bother with all of this. Why did he not just reveal his identity to his brothers when they first came to Egypt? One reason I think is that he wanted some time to think things over. But I think that he goes through all the other machinations to get them in his debt and under his power because he is afraid that they still hate him and that they will not receive him and reconcile with him unless he has some leverage over them. So he gains that leverage. Later we learn that they have the same fear: That he only reconciled with them because of the father, but once the father is gone, he will no longer have any sympathy for them. And they are all wrong. The brothers and Joseph are all sincerely repentant and desirous of undoing the wrong that has been done.
I think we, too, let fear bind us when we are having difficulty in a relationship. We think we need to protect ourselves from the hostility of the other; hostility which may not even exist. We presume this for self protection. We know how to put up a screen of defensiveness, of protection, keeping another at bay trying to prevent ourselves from being hurt. But that attitude may also prevent the healing of the relationship. The wall we put up for protection may also become a wall of division, a rift, an ending of contact.
Lent is a time to think about how we are assuming the hostility and animosity of others which may not even be there. We can also reflect on how others may be defending themselves against perceived hostility from us.
We are called to be honest and wholehearted. This also makes us vulnerable. Vulnerability can lead to intimacy and beautiful friendships and connections. It can also lead to hurt and pain. May we take the risk to be truly honest with ourselves and others. Amen.