Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a
Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
"There is no cruelty like the cruelty of children." (anon)
"Being a Jew, one learns to believe in the reality of cruelty and one learns to recognize indifference to human suffering as a fact." (Andrea Dworkin)
Who among us would not agree with that first quotation? First as siblings ourselves, then watching children on the playground or in other settings, we know that children can be cruel. Yet when Joseph’s brothers, jealous of his being his father Israel’s favorite throw him into the cistern and then sell him to the Ishmaelites, we are properly outraged. These are not 5 or 6 year-olds, jealous over every little thing. They have yet to realize their father’s love and goodness to all of them. The story of Joseph is one of God using even human cruelty, hatred and jealousy to save God’s people. The brothers did not know how much pain they would cause their father and themselves. In the grand denouement of the story, Joseph reveals himself to them in Pharaoh’s palace and says: "What you intended for harm, God has used for good." The brothers learn compassion in the hardest of ways.
In our gospel story today, Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who plants his vineyard, puts a hedge around it, etc. In so many of Jesus’ stories, God (often in the guise of a vineyard owner) is looking for good fruit. God’s people, caught up in petty jealousies, ignore God’s beneficent care, and turn on God’s servants (the prophets) and finally on God’s own Son.
Jesus, suffering the cruelest of deaths for us, heals our jealousy and pettiness. In his Passion, he overcomes in us any indifference to human suffering, whether it be friend or stranger who loses a home through foreclosure, the suffering of anyone caught in an addiction or the common human sufferings of sickness and death.
Joseph and his brothers’ story is our own. The story of Jesus, especially his Passion, becomes our story more and more this Lent as we realize the beautiful thing he did for all of us.
Fr. Bob Bovenzi, C.P. is stationed in Chicago, Illinois.