Today we read of Joseph’s meetings with his brothers. These same brothers had previously sold him into slavery in Egypt, but by God’s providence Joseph had become second in command to Pharaoh and responsible for relieving the drought that was plaguing the region. Therefore, when his father Jacob sent his brothers to seek relief in Egypt, it was their own brother that they encountered, although they did not recognise him. And Joseph, despite all he had suffered, received them with love and forgiveness. Saint Caesarius of Arles comments,
Behold his generosity. He repays hatred with charity. When he saw his brothers, or rather enemies in his brothers, he gave evidence of the affection of his love by his pious grief when he wanted to be recognized by them. He tenderly kissed each one of them and wept over them individually. As Joseph moistened the necks of his frightened brothers with his refreshing tears, he washed away their hatred with the tears of his charity. He loved them always as with the love of their living father and dead brother. He did not recall that pit into which he had been thrown to be murdered; he did not think of himself, a brother, sold for a price. Instead, by returning good for evil, even then he fulfilled the precepts of the apostles that were not yet given. Therefore, by considering the sweetness of true charity, blessed Joseph, with God’s help, was eager to repel from his heart the poison of envy with which he knew his brothers had been struck.
The Fathers see Joseph as prefiguring Jesus Christ, the innocent One who was condemned and suffered for the sins of those who now encounter Him. And, just as Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, so Jesus Christ reveals Himself to us. He does not hold our sins against us, but He does seek a response – that we would recognise Him and respond to His love and forgiveness. Saint Ambrose of Milan writes,
‘Come to me,’ because I have come near to you, yes, even so far that I made myself a sharer in your nature by taking on flesh. At least do not flee a partaker of your fellowship, if you do not know the Author of your salvation. … When He was on the cross, Jesus said on behalf of the people, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ … And when they were startled and panic-stricken and thought they saw a spirit, again Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you disturbed, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I Myself. Feel and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’
A Reading from the Book of Genesis 43:26-31; 45:1-16:
When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which they had with them, and bowed down to him to the ground. And he inquired about their welfare, and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” They said, “Your servant our father is well, he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and made obeisance. And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” Then Joseph made haste, for his heart yearned for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and controlling himself he said, “Let food be served.” …
Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, “Make every one go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, I pray you.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Make haste and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry; you shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have; and there I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come; lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Make haste and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants well.