Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, `Let us go to Dothan.'” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” — that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Growing up, I used to lament that I had no siblings. But after reading our passage from Genesis, perhaps it wasn’t so bad being an only child.
Today in the life of Joseph we a find a story of jealousy and sibling rivalry. Right off the bat, we learn that Jacob (also known as Israel) loved Joseph more than any other of his children––more than his other eleven sons. In the verses omitted from today’s text, we find that Joseph is experienced as an annoying younger brother; he’s a bit of a tattle-tale. To make matters worse, Jacob made his affection for the seventeen-year-old Joseph very public by giving Joseph a special “long robe with sleeves.” So how did the brothers respond to all this? Not surprisingly, his brothers “hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” We also must note that Joseph is not so innocent when it comes to his relationship with his brothers. He appears to be take full advantage of his favored status. Folks in my grandmother’s generation would have said, he was just “too big for his britches.” Joseph is not only the favorite, but he rubs it in the faces of his brothers.
What strikes me the most in this story, however, is the hatred so strongly rooted in the hearts of the brothers. Hatred and resentment and envy consume them, and sibling rivalry comes much too close to murder. This is where hatred and envy can lead––a desire to not only have what the other person has, but to deny them of it or ultimately take it away. These emotions aren’t limited to sibling relationships either. We can experience them to varying degrees in all of our relationships as part of our everyday life with neighbors, co-workers and friends. To a larger scale, our lesson reveals human realities that touch all of our lives, whether in families, congregations or nations. Do we harbor hate or resentment towards someone we perceive as privileged, favored or simply different from us? Lent is the perfect season to honestly reflect on what is in our own hearts and what better time to start than today.
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, page 232)
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