Genesis 41:55-57; 42:5-7a
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sends the Twelve to preach God’s reign, instructing them to deal only with the lost sheep of Israel and not with pagans or Samaritans. Clearly, this was not a permanent restriction, given Jesus’ later interactions, teachings, and healings precisely with pagans and Samaritans, plus his post-resurrection command to preach to all nations. Perhaps Jesus wisely provided a "safer" testing ground for the newly-minted Apostles, in which they could solidify their own faith and hone their skills in proclaiming it. (If you want to find out what you believe, try teaching someone!) Likewise, perhaps Jesus wished to get the house of Israel in order so it could be a more credible witness and model of faith to the world that God longs to save. In other words, Jesus began at the center and worked outward.
Joseph’s brothers, on the other hand, got caught up in exterior issues of family position, power, and control. As they allowed those issues to move from the outside in, these demons ruled their hearts and resulted in their joint conspiracy to eliminate the one who threatened their status. Years later, forced under threat of starvation to go to Egypt, the brothers unknowingly encountered the outcast. Rather than retaliate, Joseph’s challenge to them was to find the center again. Could they clean out those external forces, take responsibility for what they had done, and humbly commit to a different path? Could they change from the inside out?
Perhaps we all need to do some inner housecleaning. Individually and collectively, we need to begin at the center and work outward. The house of the Church is hardly a pristine model and witness for Jesus Christ in the world today and, led by Pope Francis, a breath of change seems to be blowing through, transforming many aspects from the inside out.
What about me? I constantly feel pulled in many directions and it is so easy to lose centeredness. I get off-center in my commitment to prayer, convincing myself I don’t have time to pray today. I get off-center in my life, working so hard I don’t have time for renewal and silence. I’ve been eating too much of the wrong foods despite my desire to stay centered on my health. I struggle with relationships in my extended family, and have to work hard to stay centered in integrity, forgiveness, and love. It isn’t easy to keep God as the center and focus of every aspect of my life.
As I struggle, it is comforting to watch my toddler grandson. When I hold out my arms to him, he doesn’t make a perfectly straight and accurate beeline to my embrace. He meanders a bit, picks up a toy along the way, or gets distracted by a dog barking. Yet eventually, he makes it and throws his little arms around my neck. He gets off-center, but he knows where he wants to go and through constant course corrections, he gets there. I hope I am like that in God’s eyes. I know where I want to be. Sometimes I know the path I really should follow to get there. I just hope God has patience, grace, and mercy for my meanderings and mistakes. I also hope that I have the strength to continually clean the inner house of my heart, so that as much as possible, I stay centered on the God who gives me life and become a more effective witness to the Gospel in the world.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.