Our first reading continues to share the story in Genesis of Joseph and his brothers. That story is familiar to most of us if for no other reason than having viewed the musical “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” Sharing the story of Joseph, his father Jacob, who makes a beautiful coat for him, and his brothers, who plot his demise, the musical was a huge success beginning in the early 70s. It is the ultimate family saga, relevant in our modern day. I remember how my parents loved the most famous song from the production, “Any Dream Will Do,” and often sang it in our home.
Today, the text tells of the epic reunion between Joseph and his brothers, who sold him into slavery years before. They do not recognize him, but Joseph knows who they are and dramatically reveals himself to them. Can you imagine their shock? The text says they were “so dumbfounded” (v.3). Afraid Joseph might retaliate for their crime against him, they were distressed. Yet, Joseph does no such thing. Instead, he sees the hand of God at work even in their crime because he is now in a position to save their lives and many others. He used his gift of “dreams” to foretell the future for God’s purpose. His brothers had nothing but evil intentions when they sold him yet, God takes even this terrible betrayal to bring about good.
In our Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v.7). This verse is first found in chapter 4:17 as Jesus began his ministry in Galilee following his temptation in the desert. Now he instructs his disciples to make that same proclamation, and from the previous chapters, we know what that signifies as Jesus “cured the sick, raised the dead..”
Judgment is a motif of Matthew’s writing, and this is represented here by Jesus’ instructions to “shake the dust” from their feet wherever they were not received (vs 14-15). When returning home from Gentile (pagan) territory, Jews would shake off the dust to avoid bringing contaminated soil on their shoes. Similarly, those who do not receive the word of God are no better than pagans.
I wonder, in daily life, tending to our duties and overcoming challenges or struggles of any kind, do we forget this proclamation? Does “the kingdom of heaven” seem far away in that ancient land where Jesus once walked? Do we fall victim to our circumstances, or fail to dream, thereby missing God’s presence among us? Within this context, we easily dismiss the radical messages in these verses and race along in our hurried-up lives.
Instead, what if the living word of God broke through into our consciousness, inviting us to slow down and take a breath? Then we may savor the miracle of Joseph’s life and his ability to see the work of God as active and dynamic. In choosing to keep his focus on God’s blessing, reconciliation with his brothers was possible. His actions challenge us to contemplate this same presence in our own lives.
As a world community when we realize this sacred presence, might it be possible to cure the sick and cleanse the leper? When we take time to receive the peace of Christ, like the disciples, we will proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Gentle Jesus, let this reception of your peace begin today with me. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.